How much more money do you need to be happy?
About 25% more than you have right now.
That's according to a little-noticed 2011 survey by Boston College's Center on Wealth and Philanthropy, participants in which had an average net worth over $75 million. That's right: It turns out deca-millionaires have just as many money worries as the rest of us, and they think that if they only had a little bit more, their worries would disappear.
Put that Boston College study alongside previous research by Daniel Kahneman, of Princeton University, who found that money doesn't meaningfully add to "day-to-day happiness" once people earn over $75,000 in annual income, and you have the grist for a profound and moving exploration of the relationship between money and fulfillment: a book titled Your New Money Mindset.
Your New Money Mindset was co-authored by Brad Hewitt, the CEO of Thrivent Financial, the largest Christian wealth planning organization in America. In their book, Hewitt and his co-author, James Moline, set out to answer questions like: What does it take to live a life of abundance? How can you get out from under money fears and insecurities? How can you achieve a "surplus mindset"?
Spoiler alert: The answers have nothing to do with money.
For Hewitt, "consumerism" is the enemy of abundance. Consumerism defined as "our desire to acquire more for ourselves when we already have enough... our obsession with money and all it can buy". Under the amusing heading "Stuffication", he cites a UCLA study that found that the average household owns:
· 39 pairs of shoes
· 90 DVDs or videos
· 139 toys
· 212 CDs
· 438 books or magazines
Hewitt agrees with Jack Bogle (founder of Vanguard and the inventor of the index fund), who writes in his book, Enough, "We live in wonderful and sad times" because "for a critical element of our society... there seems to be no limit today on what 'enough' entails".
"There seems to be no end to the voices telling us to accumulate possessions, property, position and power," observes Hewitt. "[S]avers... lose perspective and put themselves under constant pressure. They make all the right moves yet rarely feel at peace. They work hard to feel free yet remain driven by fear."
Despite the economic benefits financial capitalism has created over the past century, many people seem to feel anxious about their financial situation much of the time. When researchers at Thrivent Financial asked their investor clients to describe their feelings about money, some respondents sent back drawings showing them as tiny, helpless figures at the center of a spider's web of material woes. Or at the bottom of a well, with worries pouring in on top of them. Or in a train driving off a cliff. Overwhelmed. Helpless. Out of control.
For those of us suffering from money anxiety, thinking that "the more money we earn or possess, the healthier our relationship with money will be" is nothing more than an illusion, writes Hewitt.
So what does it take to transform our attitudes about money, to move beyond anxiety to contentment?
I had lunch recently with Hewitt to ask him that question. Some of his answers were what I expected, coming from the head of wealth management firm: Careful planning and disciplined budgeting. But his primary driver of contentment surprised me: It's about being generous.
At first that seems counterintuitive. Giving time, stuff and money away makes you feel better about your financial situation? How can that be?
Being generous is a form of, and expression of, the movement from being self-focused to being other-focused.
It's also about letting go, about giving up the conceit that we "genuinely own our possessions" and recognizing that, "whenever we tighten our grasp, we invariably lose our grip."
"When we act with generosity, our world expands; when we succumb to stinginess, our lives shrivel," writes Hewitt. "Generosity is the best diagnostic tool for greed; and it's also the best prescription."
There is something about adopting a "generosity discipline" that loosens our tendency to clutch, strive and grasp for more. It changes our attitude towards money. It helps us recognize that however much we have, it can indeed be "enough."