Which would you prefer, more money or more friends?

I just read a very thought provoking article, Why Having More No Longer Makes Us Happy by Bill McKibben.  The author argues that pursuing more wealth worked well in the past when we didn’t have much material wealth but now that we are a relatively wealthy nation, pursuing more and more wealth is making us less happy not happier.   His main points are:

  1. We are pursuing more and more wealth because it worked in the past,
  2. We are spending less and less time with family and friends,
  3. We are busier and more isolated,
  4. And it isn’t working anymore.

He points out that if you are rich in relationships and poor, more money might make you happy, but if you are poor in relationships and have plenty of money, a new friend will make you much happier than more money.  If you are a peasant in China with lots of relationships and no money, a little money can go a long way towards making you happier but a sixth person living in your house won’t.  On the flip side, if you are an American living in a 2000 square foot house, another friend might make you a lot happier than the money for another coffee maker.

He argues that in the pursuit of wealth, we’ve lost our community.  We spend less and less time with family and friends and more and more time isolated: commuting, working, watching tv, surfing the internet.  And yet studies show that it’s social networks (the real ones, not the virtual ones) that keep us happy and even healthy.  Robert E. Lane, a Yale political
science professor writes that "evidence shows that companionship … contributes more to
well-being than does income."

One point he made that really struck me because I can’t tell you how many people told me that college was going to be the best years of my life and I kept asking, "Why?  Does it go downhill from there?"  Apparently it does if you look at the quality of your relationships.

Why do people so often look back on their college days as the best
years of their lives? Because their classes were so fascinating? Or
because in college, we live more closely and intensely with a community
than most of us ever do before or after?

Something I read recently said that the number of friends we have drops off dramatically after our 20s.  Recently, I’ve realized that I really miss the number of friends I had in my teens and 20s.  I did things with large groups of friends several times a week if not every day.  Now we are lucky if we squeeze something in once a week.  And even when you have time (like when I was on maternity leave), your friends likely won’t have time!

So think about it.  Increasing the time you spend with your friends and extended family will do more to make you happy than a raise at work.  And I’d even argue it’d make you happier than winning the lottery!

Solitude is good

Do you need time by yourself?  Most of us do whether we realize it or not.  I had a friend who used to call it "me time."  Whenever I started getting short with people he’d say I was missing my "me time."  I finally figured out he was right.

A few years ago I had a roommate who was around most of the time.  (And he was loud!)  I used to go into work late or come home early every day just so I would have some time alone in the house.  If I have some alone time in the morning, my whole day goes better.  I used to think it was because I hated feeling like I got up to go to work but now I think it’s because I just need some time to myself to contemplate the day before I get going. 

It doesn’t have to be first thing in the morning.  Back when Frank worked nights I used to get Jacob up in the morning, feed him and dress him and then we’d read stories until his grandparents picked him up.  Then I’d have my alone time.  (As a side note, Jacob doesn’t remember those mornings.  He was only three years old.  I find that really sad because we really enjoyed them.  I’ll keep the good memories for him!)

Ester Buchholtz wrote The call of solitude in Psychology Today where she says modern day society with all its connectedness, cell phones, internet, etc, is intruding on our alone time and we don’t even know it.  But just because we don’t realize that we aren’t getting our "me time" doesn’t mean that we don’t need it.  She says one of the main problems is that we associate solitude with loneliness.  Anytime we are alone we think we are lonely.  I certainly know people that are always bored if they are alone (or they turn on the TV in order to not feel lonely) but I also know people who really enjoy hiking or hunting by themselves.  Her article is long but worth reading.