TURN OFF THE TELLY!!

A Key to Happiness and Financial Success?

Turn off the television?  Shut down the computer?  THIS is the key to eliminating future financial woes????

My clients are often incredulous when I first suggest that they will be better able to avoid financial distress and perhaps even achieve financial success if they heed this seemingly simple advice for their family.  Let me make my case.

Americans are spending between 21 to 30 hours a week watching television and another 15 to 20 hours a week online.  Add this to the time they spend working, sleeping and engaging in other non-social activities, they are left with very little time to foster relationships.  I would suggest that as a society we are living in a social dessert.   Couples do not talk to each other.  Children and parents do not communicate. Marriages are dissolving at record rates and becoming less common.   Children have few friends and very frequently have little real social contact with their parents.  We do not know our neighbors.  We seldom meet with our co-workers or friends.  Churches and social clubs have fewer and fewer members.  When was the last time that you got together with friends?  Do you hear children playing together in your neighborhood?  We all are thirsting for connections, for relationships, but we leave ourselves no time to find them or nurture them.  Perhaps this hunger is what makes Facebook so popular, and yet, Facebook really provides no real relationships, but merely a facade, a false front of relationships.  How many “friends” do you have?

When scientists have studied happiness one of the clearest findings is that humans are social creatures and that close social relationships are a primary factor in human happiness.  Close relationships provide us: the ability to love and be loved; validation of self worth; a source of help in times of trouble; mutual understanding; security; diversity to help us grow and learn; fun and celebration; and support to make positive changes in our life.   A second important factor found in people who are happy is that  they feel connected to at least one community, such as a church community or a social club.   So it seems clear that happiness in large part is related to our connections with others.   Indeed, when I ask my clients to describe times that they have been happy, inevitably they describe events in which they shared something with someone they are close to.  So if one has few if any relationships then it is natural that they will suffer from unhappiness.  I would posit that our American society is heavily populated with unhappy people with nominal relationships.    If we are unhappy, we shall seek ways to be happy.

Now enter the marketers intent on selling products.  What do they tell us on a constant and regular basis?  They tell us that the key to happiness is the ownership of whatever it is that they want to sell.  They tell our children that if they want to be happy and have good relationships with parents and friends, then they need to have this or that toy, or wear this clothing The advertising might be very direct such as the recent Direc TV commercials “Don’‘t wake up in a roadside ditch, get Direc TV”.     Or it may be more subtle, showing pictures and videos of happy people, happy families.  The inference is that you too can be happy, just like these people.  Just BUY, BUY, BUY, BUY!!!  And even if we recognize the lie that the marketers tell us, still and yet most of us have the impulse to shop or acquire possessions when we are unhappy.

Now enter the credit industry.   You deserve to be happy.  You deserve to have the things to make you happy.  Buy now, pay later.  And the cash is handed out like candy at a parade.  In 2011 the total consumer debt reached its highest point in the last decade despite the downturn of the economy.

My point is not so much to turn off the television.  My point is that we need relationships.  This is the key to happiness.  We must find the time to spend with our families and friends.  We must swim against the tide and seek water in our social dessert.  To do this, it seems that turning off the television is the first big step towards happiness.  This will give us 30 extra hours a week to develop the relationships that we crave and find the happiness that we desire.  And maybe, just maybe, we will spend less, charge less and save more.  And maybe our children will have enough of a relationship with us to care for us when we are old.

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