During my study of happiness, I’ve noticed that I often learn more from one person’s highly idiosyncratic experiences than I do from sources that detail universal principles or cite up-to-date studies. So from time to time, I post short interviews with interesting people about their insights on happiness.
One of my happiness-project resolutions is to “Bring people together,” and I also love being on the receiving end of that resolution. My friend Marci Alboher is famous for her ability to make helpful and fun introductions. Through Marci, I met (virtually) Nina Smith, who founded the popular site Queer Cents. It’s a personal finance site (think WiseBread or Get Rich Slowly) with a twist: “We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re not going shopping without coupons.” One of the topics that interests me most in happiness is the complex relationship between money and happiness. Nina has done a lot of thinking about exactly this topic, and on the topic of happiness generally.
Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Nina: Happiness does not need a lot of conditions.
Gretchen: Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Nina: I am what I eat. I’m still trying to master how to make better food choices and practice portion-control so that the relationship between what I eat and how I feel improves.
Gretchen: Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve find very helpful? Or a happiness quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?
Nina: Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Happiness is there, only our capacity of enjoying it is in question.” I am responsible for my own happiness and it is a state that I can actively change for the better.
Gretchen: If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost?
Nina: It depends why I’m feeling blue. Sometimes blue might have more to do with feeling lonely or isolated – this was especially true when I moved away from my family and lived alone as a young adult. Back then, my happiness boost was getting out of my apartment and being around other people. Often times, it was as simple as walking to the neighborhood coffeehouse to read a book or write something in my journal. Chatting briefly with the server, catching a smile from a stranger, and listening to music was enough to infuse my mood with brighter colors on a long and lonely weekend.
I always like to remind myself that feeling blue is momentary. These days, my blue is less about loneliness and more about strain that comes with balancing work and life commitments. It’s strange how a decade, middle age, and creating a family can change my perspective on things. My mood boost now is exercise: I took up running shortly after turning forty and I run at least 3 miles on as many mornings as possible. A bad mood has less of a chance of sabotaging my day when I fit in a run.
Gretchen: Is there anything that you see people around you doing or saying that adds a lot to their happiness, or detracts a lot from their happiness?
Nina: People with regrets seem to be less content than those that live life in such a way as to not have regrets. When we fully participate in the present, it is easier to let go of our past mistakes, failures and lost opportunities. The present is the place that’s filled with hope and possibilities and in my opinion, happiness.
Gretchen: Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
Nina: People love to say that money can’t buy happiness. For me personally, money buys a certain amount of happiness. Perhaps this is a predictable view since I blog about money but from my vantage point, money definitely buys comfort, ease and security; and I know this contributes to my happiness. I remember when I didn’t have money. It was hard to be happy when I was worried about how I was going to pay my bills and basic necessities.
You once wrote that this “money buys happiness” view depends partly on how we spend our money. I’ve never been a consumer for the sake of consuming and thinking this purchase or that purchase will make me happy. Rather, I spend money on experiences and my daily surroundings in an attempt to live a simple, but beautiful life.
Also, I only spend money that I have by living within my means. Here’s an example: my partner and I spent $85,000 over the last couple of years on fertility treatments and then the adoption process. While our newborn son brings me incredible joy, it would have been harder for me to be “happy” today if we had used credit cards or a home equity line instead of our savings to pay for all those expenses. To be completely candid, I probably would have elected to forgo “parenting” if it meant going into debt to do this… some people might not understand, but I know what contributes to my happiness and debt would have prevented me from being a happy parent. Right now we’re working on starting his college fund… and socking away money for his education will make me a very happy mom over the next 18 years.
By the way, The American published an excellent article in 08: Can Money Buy Happiness? Your readers might find the commentary to be of interest.
I had a lot of fun writing a list of Ten Blogs and One Site That Will Boost Your Happiness for Blogs.com.
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