Can money buy happiness?

Crosby_2015-150x150 Dr. Daniel Crosby Executive Director, The Center for Outcomes & Founder, Nocturne Capital

“Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.” – Henry David Thoreau

In your Psych 100 class, you were likely introduced to the concept of “operationalization,” where one concrete variable serves as proxy for a fuzzier, harder to measure construct. It is no secret that for many, the amount of wealth they have amassed serves as shorthand for happiness, but such is hardly the case. While wealth is positively correlated with well-being to a point, disconnecting money from purpose is a formula for emotional bankruptcy. One such self-delusional variant of chasing money for happiness is the “I’ll stop ignoring my happiness when I reach XYZ number.” Your magic number may be a salary or it may be a wished-for dollar amount to have in the bank. Whatever it is, I can promise you that when you get there, it won’t seem like enough. You see, we are not conditioned to think of money in terms of “enough.” As one of my clients once said to me, “Doc, you can never be too rich or too skinny.”

The scientific name for this phenomenon is the “hedonic treadmill” or “hedonic adaptation,” referring to the fact that we must make more and more money to keep our level of happiness in the same place. What tends to happen is that our expectations rise and fall with our earnings (as well as other circumstances in our life), keeping our happiness at a relatively stable place. To demonstrate this effect, I’d like for you to consider two groups that seemingly have little in common – paraplegics and lottery winners.

Can money buy happiness

 
Suppose I asked you, “Which would make you happier, winning the lottery or being in a crippling accident?” Not too tough, right? So, we would hypothesize that one-year after the life-changing event, lottery winners would be much happier and paraplegics would be much sadder. But this is simply not the case. One year after their respective events, it makes little difference whether you are riding in a Bentley or a wheelchair – happiness levels remain relatively static.

Why? We tend to overpredict the impact of external events on our happiness. One year later, paraplegics have discovered their accidents were not as catastrophic as they may have feared and have coped accordingly. Similarly, lottery winners have found out that having money brings with it a variety of complications. No amount of spending can take away some of the tough things life throws at each and every one of us. As the saying goes, “wherever you go, there you are.” In much the same way, we tend to project forward to a hypothesized happier time, when we have more money in the bank or are making a bigger salary. The fact of the matter is, when that day arrives, we are unlikely to recognize it and will simply project forward once again, hoping in vain that something outside of ourselves will come and make it all better.

A recent Princeton study set out to answer the age-old question, “Can money buy happiness?” Their answer? Sort of. Researchers found that making little money did not cause sadness in and of itself but it did tend to heighten and exacerbate existing worries. For instance, among people who were divorced, 51 percent of those who made less than $1,000 a month reported having felt sad or stressed the previous day, whereas that number fell to 24 percent among those earning more than $3,000 a month. Having more money seems to provide those undergoing adversities with greater security and resources for dealing with their troubles. However, the researchers found that this effect (mitigating the impact of difficulty) largely disappears at $75,000.

For those making more than $75,000 a year, individual differences have much more to do with happiness than money. While the study does not make any specific inferences as to why $75,000 is the magic number, I’d like to take a stab at it. Most families making $75,000 a year have enough to live in a safe home, attend quality schools, and have appropriate leisure time. Once these basic needs are met, quality of life has less to do with buying happiness and more to do with individual attitudes. After all, someone who makes $750,000 can buy a faster car than someone who makes $75,000, but his or her ability to get from point A to point B is not substantially improved. Once our basic financial needs are met, the rest is up to us. Hard work provides the means, but we must find our meaning.

If happiness does not come from hitting the lottery and sadness is not borne of personal tragedy, what does make us happy? Well, fortunately or unfortunately (depending on how well-adjusted your parents are), a great deal of happiness comes from our “hedonic set point,” which is genetically determined. A ten-year, longitudinal study of 1,093 identical twins found that between 44 percent and 52 percent of subjective wellbeing is accounted for by genetic factors. So, roughly half of what makes you happy is out of your control I’m sorry to say.

Of the remaining 50 percent, roughly 10 percent is due to external circumstances and a whopping 40 percent is due to intentional activities, or the choices we make and the purpose we create. We discussed before how we tend to overrate the importance of the things that happen to us, and sure enough, only 10 percent of what makes us happy is accounted for by lucky and unlucky breaks. Eighty percent of the non-genetic components of happiness can be controlled by our attitude and by making choices that are consistent with finding true joy. The first step in this pursuit is ensuring that the goals we are setting for ourselves are consistent with finding true happiness.

If 80 percent of the happiness that is in our control comes from setting and working toward positive goals, what sort of goals should we be setting? Headey has found that goals focused on enriching relationships and social resources are likely to increase wellbeing. We connect with a number of close friends and find joy within those relationships. On the other hand, he found that goals based around monetary achievement have a negative effect on overall wellbeing. Unlike friendship, which we “consume” in limited but satisfying quantities, we feel as though we can never really reach a financial goal. Having a core group of close friends sates us; it is sufficient to meet our social needs and we do not pine for ever-greater numbers of friends. Not so with financial goals; just as we reach our former goal, the hedonic treadmill kicks in and our excitement over having “arrived” is gone in an instant. Dr. Daniel Gilbert, a happiness expert at Harvard University, says that pursuing wealth at the expense of more satisfying goals has a high opportunity cost. “When people spend their effort pursuing material goods in the belief that they will bring happiness, they’re ignoring other, more effective routes to happiness.” The simple fact is this: chasing money and material goods is an itch that our flawed psychology will never let us scratch, unless we can define our financial goals in terms of the personal ends they will meet.

In a money-obsessed world that has socialized us to chase the almighty dollar, it can be weirdly unsettling to learn that money isn’t everything. As much as we whine about money, having something that is the physical embodiment of happiness is nice. We can hold it, save it, get more of it, all while mistakenly thinking that getting paid is how we “arrive.” Realizing that money does not directly equate to meaning can leave us with a sense of groundlessness, but once we’ve stripped away that faulty foundation, we can replace it with things that lead to less evanescent feelings of happiness. Breaking your overreliance on money as a substitute for real joy is a great first step, a second step is learning to spend your wealth in ways that matter.

Lest we swing from the extreme of “money is the only good” to the opposite extreme of “money is no good,” it is worth noting that there are ways in which money can be spent to improve happiness. A lot of our troubles with money stem from the way we spend it, thinking that buying “things” will make us happy. We engage in retail therapy, which is quickly followed by feelings of regret at being overextended. Before we know it, we’re surrounded by the relics of our discontent; the things we bought to be happy become constant reminders that we’re not. Instead of amassing a museum of junk, spend your money on things of real value. Spend a little more on quality, healthy food and take the time to savor your new purchases. Use your money to invest in a dream – pay yourself to take a little time off and write that novel about which you’ve always dreamt. Give charitably and experience the joy of watching those less fortunate benefit from your wealth. A growing body of research suggests that the most important way in which money makes us happy is when we give it away. Finally, spend money on having special experiences with your loved ones. It’s true that money doesn’t directly buy happiness, but it can do a great deal to facilitate it if you approach it correctly.

The Center for Outcomes, powered by Brinker Capital, has prepared a system to help advisors employ the value of behavioral alpha across all aspects of their work – from business development to client service and retention. To learn more about The Center for Outcomes and Brinker Capital, call us at 800-333-4573.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Investment Insights Podcast: When the macro clouds clear

Holland_Podcast_150x126Tim Holland, CFA, Senior Vice President, Global Investment Strategist

On this week’s podcast (recorded September 15, 2017), Tim discusses how Brinker Capital’s focus will remain on market and economic fundamentals.

Quick hits:

  • Despite the strong fundamentals in early September, the market was languishing as investors focused on current political and geo-political events.
  • We will of course continue to monitor political and geo-political events, but our focus will remain on market and economic fundamentals; those factors that more than any other drive stock prices over the long-term.

For Tim’s full insights, click here to listen to the audio recording.

investment podcast (10)

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Investment Insights Podcast: A review of August markets

Lowman_150x150px

Leigh Lowman, CFA, Investment Manager

On this week’s podcast (recorded September 8, 2017), Leigh provides a quick review of August markets.

 

Quick hits:

  • In a historically seasonally weak month, risk assets exhibited weaker performance in August.
  • Global economies continued to stay the course on the path to recovery with both consumer and business confidence and macroeconomic data remaining positive.
  • We expect that the upcoming actions in Washington may serve as a catalyst for a pickup in volatility, which has been notably absent year to date.
  • However, more volatile periods can often lead to attractive market opportunities.

Listen_Icon  Listen to the audio recording.

Read_Icon  Read the full September Market and Economic Outlook.

market outlook

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

 

September 11, 2001: A day to remember

beaman 150 x 150Noreen D. Beaman, Chief Executive Officer

As today marks the 16th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, we remember those who lost their lives and honor those still fighting for our freedom. We grieve, empathize, and reflect on the day’s events that forever changed our country. From the pain of this unspeakable tragedy, American’s came together to build a stronger, more resilient community.

Since then, we continue to come together in times of adversity. Whether it be Hurricane Katrina, Super Storm Sandy or most recently, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the people of this country always can be counted on to reach out and help those in need.

In response to Hurricane Harvey’s destruction, Brinker Capital employees generously donated to the Houston Food Bank, which provided 36,960 meals to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey. Additionally, Brinker Capital will be taking new donations to help those who have been displaced by Hurricane Irma in the coming days.

On behalf of the Brinker Capital family, our thoughts are with the everyday heroes who have helped make our nation stronger today.

Follow the earnings, my friend

Wilson-150-x-150Thomas K.R. Wilson, CFA, external Chief Investment Officer, Wealth Advisory

In meeting with clients this summer, the most frequently asked question was, “Why does the stock market keep going up?” Of course, there are variations of this question which range from “How does the market go up with all the distraction in the U.S. government,” to “This bull market is very long, how can it continue?”

On the surface, it does seem odd that the market continues to move higher. There have been a lot of ‘interesting’ comments coming from the White House, which in a different time may have caused the equity market to decline or at least pause. The average economic expansion since 1900 lasted 47 months, however, the one we are currently in has lasted 98 months, thus far. The economic expansion has contributed to a bull market, which began in March 2009, that is now up close to 260%! In addition, there are a litany of geopolitical issues ranging from riots in Venezuela, an expanding Chinese navy, and North Korean missile tests, which combined are pushing the rise of populism in Europe and the constant Middle East conflict to the backburner. Besides, whatever happened to the old cliché of sell in May and go away? For the year, the S&P 500 is up just over 11%, which includes more than 1.5% appreciation since June 1.

There are a variety of reasons why the U.S. equity market is up, but arguable the most important factor is the earnings of U.S. companies. Earnings have been good this year, very good. And, expectations for earnings for the remainder of the year and into 2018 are solid. This comes on the heels of flat to down earnings from 2014 through the first half of 2016. Furthermore, once earnings are finalized for the second quarter, it looks like operating margins achieved their highest level of any quarter in the last decade!                                                               Follow the earnings my friend

James Carville, campaign strategist for President Bill Clinton, is credited with the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid.” As we think about the gains in U.S. equities this year, perhaps a variation of this phrase, “Follow the earnings, my friend” is more appropriate.

For 30 years, Brinker Capital has served financial advisors and their clients by providing the highest quality investment manager due diligence, asset allocation, portfolio construction and client communication services. Brinker Capital Wealth Advisory works with business owners, individual investors and institutions with assets of at least $2 million. To learn more about the services available through Brinker Capital Wealth Advisor, click here.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Source:  JP Morgan

Investment Insights Podcast: Forgotten fundamentals

Holland_Podcast_150x126Tim Holland, CFA, Senior Vice President, Global Investment Strategist

On this week’s podcast (recorded September 1, 2017), Tim discusses how recent current events are not fundamental to the market’s long-term performance.

Quick hits:

  • In the first half of 2017, the S&P 500 delivered year over year earnings growth of 12%, driven by double digit gains in both the first and second quarter.
  • The robust earnings performance of the S&P 500 is important for several reasons.
  • The underlying economic and market fundamentals are what matter most over the long term, and for the time being the news on both fronts is much more good than bad.

For Tim’s full insights, click here to listen to the audio recording.

investment podcast (9)

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Investing in Game of Thrones

Williams 150 X 150Dan Williams, CFA, CFPInvestment Analyst

Nothing else could make me, and many others, actually look forward to Sunday night like Game of Thrones. Of course I felt a need to draw some wisdom to the investment world from this show if for no other reason than I get to relieve my separation anxiety from the many months until the show comes back for its final season. Thankfully this season lends itself easily to the task.

For those unfamiliar with the show let me sum it up as briefly as possible (warning vague spoilers). There exists a continent called Westeros that is divided into numerous houses/kingdoms that swore fealty to the House that sits on the Iron Throne. In the recent past, there was a rebellion that disposed of the longstanding ruling House Targaryen and drove the surviving member(s) of the house off the continent into hiding. The show opens with a member of House Baratheon sitting on the throne. Well, that king gets killed “by accident on a hunting trip.” His best mate, who is head of House Stark, becomes involved in investigating the situation in the capital city and gets beheaded. House Lannister slides onto the throne by a member of the house being conveniently married to the former king. This whole situation causes much trouble as House Stark wants revenge, House Targaryen and Baratheon want to take back the throne, and the rest of the Houses see opportunity to reposition themselves. A bunch of people kill some other people by various methods. Some body parts get cut-off. Some dragons show up. Some people come back from the dead by unnatural methods. Really a classic story. So that is it.

Wait! I forgot! Up north there are reports of a huge frozen undead army being formed that threatens to sweep down and kill everyone. This threat is summed up as “Winter is coming.” No biggie, right? Oops!

GOT.Winter is Coming
The parallel that can be drawn to the investment world is that while people are chasing and comparing themselves to each other’s performance and asset class benchmarks, they take the eye off the primary goal – survival. The Houses all want more castles and the glory to sit up on the Iron Throne while John Snow, one of the show’s main protagonists who has been positioned up north for the majority of the show, said this season “If we don’t put aside our enmities and band together, we will die. And then it doesn’t matter whose skeleton sits on the Iron Throne.”

While we are not necessarily battling our neighbors – like the houses of Westeros – for bragging rights of investment returns, it is still the wrong struggle to have. The great threat to the north is our inability to meet our goals due to poor investment planning. We can go off track by spending too much or saving too little. We can take on too much or too little risk or invest in the wrong account types. We can be operating tax inefficient. We can fail to insure against the unlikely but devastating potential life events. Planning with an advisor should be focused on setting a path that provides the best likelihood for success against this enemy of insufficient assets for our goals rather than the bragging rights of a few year of investment returns.

During this season, attempts were made by John Snow to refocus the warring houses to the real threat of the north. This threat has been lurking for all seven seasons of the show and the big question is – is it too late for them? Similarly, the challenge of investment goal planning is easiest when taken on as early as possible or before winter comes. The adviser’s role is similar of that to John Snow’s, get their clients to start to properly prepare as early as possible for the threats that matter.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Investment Insights Podcast: September could be a grueling month in Washington

magnotta_headshot_2016

Amy Magnotta, CFASenior Vice President, Brinker Capital

On this week’s podcast (recorded August 29, 2017), Amy discusses how the agenda in Washington, during the month of September, will be grueling.

Quick hits:

  • Lawmakers must deal with raising the debt ceiling, government funding to avoid a shutdown, and a new budget that will provide a reconciliation vehicle so that tax reform can pass with a simple majority vote.
  • We faced a similar situation in September 2013 when the government did shut down for sixteen days.
  • We believe that the Administration serves as both a positive tailwind for the economy and markets, as well as a significant risk.

For Amy’s full insights, click here to listen to the audio recording.

investment podcast (8)

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Investment Insights Podcast: US Equities & Constitutional Crises

Holland_Podcast_150x126Tim Holland, CFA, Senior Vice President, Global Investment Strategist

On this week’s podcast (recorded August 23, 2017), Tim examines how the stock market fared during recent Constitutional crises

Quick hits:

  • During that tumultuous Watergate Period, the S&P 500 sold off approximately 30%, easily clearing the Bear Market threshold of a 20% correction.
  • During the 13 months of The Whitewater / Monica Lewinsky Period, the S&P 500 was up approximately 20%, a far better showing than its return during The Watergate Period.
  • While the two periods had much in common politically, why were they so dissimilar when it came to stock market returns?

For Tim’s full insights, click here to listen to the audio recording.

investment podcast (7)

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Business ownership…its personal

Coyne_Headshot-150x150John Coyne, Vice Chairman

We recently held the second call in our Business Owner Transition series with Matt Coyne, author of Straight Talk from the Front Lines and CEO of Brandywine Mergers and Acquisitions.  Matt’s presentation primarily focused on the idea that an advisor must play the emotional therapist as much as the transition planner. He emphasized that an advisor’s role is to help the business owner realize the purpose of owning a tangible asset is to maximize its value, not to infuse it with a personality like a favorite old retainer in Downton Abbey.

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to hear the great Peter Lynch of Fidelity Magellan fame and he said something so profound that it’s been my mantra ever since.  He said, simply, “stocks don’t know you own them.”  He went on to state that stocks don’t care if you’re a Bishop or an axe murderer; they don’t know that your dad worked at the company for 30 years; or, that your grandmother made you swear you would never sell good old Texaco (my mom in this case).  These lessons apply equally here with some variations.

Business Ownership Its Personal

 
Every business owner must consider the impact of a sale on their employees, their customers, and their families.  But, that should be as dispassionate in the analysis as any other valuation they will be conducting.  A buyer, no matter how invested in the industry or this acquisition, is only looking at the purchase for the opportunity it presents to make money for themselves and their investors.  They will happily listen to war stories and personal histories at the closing dinner, but these will never move the EBITDA one dollar.

An advisor needs to help the business owner recognize that the business was a means to an end.  And, it is this reward that should have the personal feelings attached to it because it represents that they, their families and their legacy will enjoy the fruits of their labor.  It is like the young woman in the Liberty Mutual ad who loved but totaled her car “Brad” until the insurance company called and she broke into her happy dance.  So we all need to put on our tap shoes and get our owners out on the dance floor!

For 30 years, Brinker Capital has served financial advisors and their clients by providing the highest quality investment manager due diligence, asset allocation, portfolio construction and client communication services. Brinker Capital Wealth Advisory works with business owners, individual investors and institutions with assets of at least $2 million. To learn more about the services available through Brinker Capital Wealth Advisor, click here.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.