Jennifer Aaker is a social psychologist, author, and professor of marketing at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business. Over the years, her research has focused on three topics of interest to most of us: Money, Time, and Happiness (not necessarily in that order).
Her big interest is in uncovering what actually makes people happy...as opposed to what they think makes them happy.
In this regard, she has recently co-authored an article in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, "If Money Doesn't Make You Happy, Consider Time".
As I read it, her conclusions can be summed up thusly:
- Happiness is a consequence of the choices we make.
- Time is a finite resource. We can increase our happiness by spending our time wisely.
- The more time that we spend with our partners, best friends, and close friends...the happier we are.
Sounds straightforward enough. How does one make this happen?
- Spend time with the right people. Socially connecting activities are responsible for the happiest parts of the day. Work is an essential part of this element in the time-happiness relationship. Two of the biggest predictors of a person's general happiness are whether they have a 'best friend' at work...and whether they like their boss.
- Spend time on the right activities. How much time during the day do we spend on mindless activities, where we never actually make the intentional choice to participate? It is better to ask the question, "Will what I am doing right now become more valuable over time?"
- Enjoy experiences without actually doing them. The part of the brain responsible for feeling pleasure (the mesolimbic dopamine system) can be activated by merely thinking about something pleasurable. A great example: reading a guidebook before a much-anticipated vacation. [I think they call this "daydreaming"]
- Focus on the present. Research has shown that focusing on the present (vs. the future) can slow down the passage of time. [One can do this by simply breathing more deeply.]
- Happiness changes over time. Younger people (i.e. Millennials) experience happiness as excitement. Older folks (i.e. Baby Boomers) experience happiness as peacefulness. The implication is, as we age, that we should shift how we spend our time, as our understanding of happiness changes.
For financial advisors, we can draw interesting inferences from all of this. For example, "Spending time with the right people" should definitely include our clients. If we don't enjoy our clients as individuals, the days can become very, very long. Similarly, I also like the mindfulness of "Spending time on the right activities". Sometimes I feel that when I'm really tired, or a bit blue, I can go from activity-to-activity without even thinking about its value. The net result is that my mindlessness seems to exacerbate my ennui.