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Happy girl by Seth Doyle - 700pxHappiness, for me, is having a close-knit, loving family – in another city. I love my family but they sometimes drive me crazy. So here I am, in the big city, doing what I love the most in my career. I also have to deal with the usual struggles of living alone. Still, I would not trade it for anything. It may not be the kind of happiness for most people, but to me, it is.

Years ago, happiness for me, was graduating from university. At another time, it was getting my dream job. Then there was travel to Europe. My own house. My dream vacation. I was able to achieve all of them but does it mean I am happy? Most of the time, I am. On some days, I wish some things were different. The list of things that make people happy can be long. Chances are, my list will be different from yours.

So what makes people happy? Is it a million dollars? A successful career? Perhaps a relationship? Or even a pet? I suspect most people would choose a million dollars. It gives you a lot of options and one less worry in life. But it won’t buy happiness.

It is possible to be happy even when you don’t have a lot in life. I grew up in an average-income family. We didn’t have much, but we had what we needed. I didn’t have a lot of toys, but I had a lot of cousins to play with. Weekend family dinners were a riot, but always fun. I was in university when I realized that money can spell the difference between comfort and getting by. Yet, I had a great time despite the financial challenges.

So how then can we pin down an answer to this question that’s plagued great minds over the centuries? A study conducted by the University of British Columbia in Canada yielded some insights that may lead us to happiness. According to most people, the secret to happiness is when you value your time more than your money.

This was based on a survey conducted among 4,600 participants. When asked between time and wealth, the participants were split in the middle. In terms of age, not surprisingly, the older participants favored time over wealth. Generally, those who gave more importance to time tended to be happier.

There was a consistent preference to prioritising time over money. Likewise, having more free time brings in more happiness than having more money. Ever wonder why some people do volunteer work, give food to the homeless, or help others in need even when they do not have much themselves?  The feeling of being able to do good apparently brings a feeling of satisfaction in people.

There may be a lot of truth in what the study claims. If I recall my happiest moments, it was mostly about time well spent with family, friends, and peers. 90% of those times were spent outside of the work place. Getting a pay raise or a bonus during the holidays do not come to mind, but how and where the money was spent did.

The study is not conclusive because of some limitations. It doesn’t include people living on the poverty line who may not have much choice but to prioritise survival. Gender, income, and marital status, interestingly, had no bearing on whether a participant favored time over money. Still, I believe the study is on point.

I worked as an executive for 13 years. The job had a lot of perks – international travel, great pay, invitations to sought-after functions and events. The trade off was missing birthdays, family dinners, and other special occasions one too many times. I woke up one Saturday and realised that I am missing out on my own life. Two days later, I handed in my resignation. On the first day I was out of work, I spent an entire day being lazy at the beach. It felt so good to stop and just enjoy my surroundings and not think about work.

I do not earn half as much as I used to. There are days when the financial struggle is so real, I feel it will bite me in the face any minute. On the other hand, I have not been sick since the day I left work. I have not missed a holiday, a birthday, or a family gathering since then. I traveled to four out of the 10 places I wanted to visit – on a shoestring budget. Ironically, two of the places were cities I have previously visited on business. I had spent both trips entirely in conference rooms, negotiating with buyers. I am more fit than I have been in the last ten years.

Am I happy? I don’t know, but I can definitely say that I am in a good place.

How about you? Are you living a life well lived?

You might also find this article, How happy is your country? interesting.