Finding Financial Happiness, Part 2

woman working in coffee shop

Last month we discussed how Americans are still overwhelmingly dissatisfied with their finances, despite record net worth and increased income.

That conversation focused on spending, and how increased inflation in housing, groceries and other necessities has made those higher incomes feel insufficient. For people feeling the angst of the uncontrollable (interest rates, inflation, etc.), I encouraged revisiting gratitude. While gratitude alone can’t combat expenses like the cost of housing, it’s a potent antidote to the anxiety and frustration these circumstances bring.

Today I want to touch on another financial contributor to happiness: generosity. I’ll begin with a recent story I found particularly inspiring.

Geoffrey Holt was a single, childless 82-year-old man living in a mobile home park in rural Hinsdale, New Hampshire. He was considered to be kind, patient and humble, and he enjoyed riding his lawnmower around the trailer park. In 2022, he passed away, leaving a $3.8 million estate to his town. He had quietly and consistently saved and invested his unspent money in stocks. Some might suggest he was unremarkable; I suggest the opposite.

By all measures, Holt was a wealthy man. He could have lived in a large home, traveled the world, and even upgraded his lawnmower to a vehicle that wasn’t John Deere green. Yet he chose a simple life. He knew what he wanted and found something money couldn’t buy — happiness. His gift to the small town of Hinsdale, New Hampshire, will fund programs and city endeavors for years to come.

I believe that unspent money creates freedom. As a financial advisor, I consistently help people work toward those freedoms. While those freedoms often come with a heavy price tag, investing in them is a choice we all have. Holt chose a freedom that cost significantly less than most. He never longed for a vacation home, lavish trips or expensive things. Rather he wanted to spend time cruising around on his lawnmower. This simplicity and contentment is wonderful.

Another example is Chuck Feeney, cofounder of the Duty Free stores in airports worldwide. Feeney passed away as a billionaire in October of 2023. During his business years, he and his wife tried the “good life” in luxury apartments in New York, London and Paris. They regularly vacationed to Aspen and the French Rivera. Money was no concern.

But at age 53, he wondered if all this “stuff” was really improving their happiness. Having achieved everything society said would make them happy, he and his wife weren’t any happier. So Feeney started donating their money, helping others, and providing resources to worthwhile causes. “What have you got to show for the money?” was a regular mantra of Feeney in his later years. They found what made them happy, and they anonymously and boldly did it.

While giving away large sums of money has become a welcome and increasing trend among billionaires (see Warren Buffett and Bill Gates), one hardly must be wealthy to give generously.

Not long ago, I had a fun “weekend job” as a part-time private ski instructor. The resort paid me $12 an hour for six hours each day to help their clientele learn to ski. At $72 a day, most would struggle to live, especially after subtracting $40 for parking and $20 for lunch.

Most ski clients presumed I was receiving a piece of the $1,100 lesson fee the resort charged, and thus were often reluctant to tip. This situation is all too common in businesses these days. I was extremely fortunate to work this job purely for the enjoyment of helping others, so I didn’t need tips. But several of my ski colleagues relied on tip money just to make ends meet.

This is a reminder that we all can, and regularly should, be generous. While being served by others, I want to reward them for stellar service. I appreciate them for doing what I cannot or choose not to do myself. Tipping beyond their expectations shows an attitude of gratitude — a choice to reward others for their service — and it brings great joy. Try it.

Generosity has scientifically proven benefits for those who give. Studies show that people are happier when spending money on others rather than on themselves. And this happiness motivates them to be more generous in the future. Even small acts of kindness, like picking up an item someone has dropped, can make people happy.

Furthermore, generosity can reduce stress, support one’s physical health, enhance one’s sense of purpose, fight depression and even increase one’s lifespan according to reports from the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkley.

For some, showing generosity is difficult. If you’re struggling to make ends meet, the biggest benefactor of your generosity should be you and your family. But for those fortunate enough to be able to give generously, I encourage you to try it. Stretch your giving beyond what you might usually contribute, and witness the effect on others (and yourself!). Like gratitude, generosity brings a healthy mindset and a potent cure to the constant doomsday discord fostered by news outlets and social media.

Gratitude and generosity: two mindsets that anyone can adopt regardless of their income, net worth or spending. Perhaps happiness, financial and otherwise, can be found in simply changing the way we view the world.

Steve Booren

Steve Booren is the Owner and Founder of Prosperion Financial Advisors, located in Greenwood Village, Colo. He is the author of Blind Spots: The Mental Mistakes Investors Make and Intelligent Investing: Your Guide to a Growing Retirement Income and a regular columnist in The Denver Post. He was recently named a Barron's Top Financial Advisor and recognized as a Forbes Top Wealth Advisor in Colorado.

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