Finding happiness in the middle of a crisis
Last week we held a public event we call Sydney Conversations – a series of talks we host where, with the aid of a panel of speakers, we get to look closely at a topic that’s making the news, and get the news behind the news, so to speak.
Our Conversation was around the topic ‘How much is enough?’. The idea was to look at the link between money and happiness, or money and unhappiness as the case may be.
The Happiness Institute’s Tim Sharp talked about the sources of happiness: he said that having meaningful and purposeful pursuits is the path to happiness, coupled with the quality relationships we have in our lives. That happiness had nothing whatsoever to do with money.
Financial guru Paul Clitheroe agreed with him. He said the more people earn the more they lose the plot; that poverty existed also in the top echelons of society – but that the poverty was emotional, not financial. Indeed he said one of the happiest yet poorest fellows he knew told him he still managed to save $50 from his pension (a feat in itself) and that he “wanted for nothing”.
Arun Abey (writer of the book How Much is Enough) talked about the education of our kids to help them resist peer pressure – especially the need to educate behaviours around money.
For my part I was keen to have a conversation about the connection between relationships and happiness and also how we go about helping kids (especially kids from disadvantaged backgrounds), improve their happiness levels and wellbeing for the future.
Here we are now, smack bang in the middle of a global financial crisis, with people losing their jobs, or thinking they could potentially lose their jobs. They are looking over their shoulders second guessing what’s going on, trying not to express their fears for the future, especially not in front of their children, whose pleasure in the simplest things in life gives their parents so much pleasure and a chance to be worry-free for a change.
There is a remedy to help us get through this. It is clear to me that happiness is never going to be truly achievable without meaningful, trusting, quality relationships in our lives.
We need to keep people connected so that they don’t feel so isolated. On a daily basis at The Smith Family we are doing that very thing. We have many volunteers working with us – some of whom are doing so to keep their skills honed in between jobs. They rejoice in the fact they can give back while working for our organisation as a volunteer, they can see the good they are contributing towards and they can get their sense of self worth restored. They can feel more positive about the future when all the indicators would say they have every right to feel pessimistic.
Why are our children spending less time eating meals with their parents – less time than their peers in most other OECD countries? And why is it that only around half of Aussie 15 year olds agree that their Mums and Dads spend time just talking with them more than once a week? What’s going on with the other half not being talked to? Should we care about the breakdown of family relationships?
We Australians consider ourselves more or less an egalitarian society, so why is it we don’t agitate more when we see the gap between those at the top of the pole and the others at the bottom getting ever wider? Don’t we care?
I think we should – because if we don’t we have only ourselves to thank for the society we become.
Not for profit organisations can facilitate relationships that allow those who can give to connect with those who need help. I was so impressed by the efforts of the CEOs who slept out in the open for St Vinnies last week and raised more than $530,000 in the process. Now that’s taking experiential learning to a whole new level, but it’s also raising awareness of a major issue and it’s encouraging those who can help to do so for those who need help – that’s relationships. And what about the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s Mother’s Day Classic – the fun run that brings the community out in droves to support a cause they believe in. And think about the $330 million plus collected for those who suffered in the appalling bushfires.
Congregating or rallying together in this way shows our humanity – and at the core of humanity are the quality relationships we have with others. Forget the global financial crisis for a minute and just reflect on what people have been doing – because it’s truly been a fascinating year so far.
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