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.

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.

Being Okay Can Help You Reach Your Goals

Dan WilliamsDan Williams, CFA, CFP, Investment Analyst

Simply being “okay” is often considered to be somewhat unsatisfying. Most companies aim for a consumer regard that’s higher than “okay” and the win-at-all-costs mindset is encouraged beginning at an early age. As Will Ferrell so aptly put it in Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

It goes without saying that the efforts of financial advisors should always be of the highest standards and putting the needs of investors first and foremost. The aggressive pursuit of playing to win at the cost of finishing the race can be highly detrimental in the world of investments. Blindly seeking out the highest returns for the assets of an investor saving for retirement can wreak havoc and have potentially disastrous consequences.

The value of a financial advisor is not getting his/her clients to their goals in an exciting manner; but rather to get them there through reliable methods. For example, more often than not, making sure clients have insurance proves to be an unnecessary task, but in rare cases it can prevent financial catastrophe. Similarly, having 3-6 months of living expenses in liquid cash equivalent assets is often a performance drag, but it can prevent figurative flat tires from causing havoc on a clients’ life journey. The practice of dollar-cost averaging typically lags the performance of putting all of one’s money into the market immediately, but it ensures that investors are buffered from bad timing impacting their lump-sum purchase.Being Okay

This idea of spreading out risk translates well into an investment portfolio that is diversified across multiple asset classes. A meaningfully diversified portfolio may rarely hit performance homeruns, but it has the potential to get investors to their savings goals with less market volatility. At Brinker Capital, all of our investment portfolios are built on this idea of diversification. While an investors’ hindsight bias may cause them to regret not being 100 percent in the “right” asset class and frustrate the financial advisor who’s kept their clients on track, the reward for the proper long-term asset allocation is a successful completion of the race. Much like the tortoise of The Tortoise and the Hare, the journey may not be as quick as some would like, but continuous progress is made overtime to compound wealth and achieve a savings goal. Meaningfully diversified multi-asset class portfolios will fare better than all-equity portfolios in bear markets and better than all-fixed income portfolios in bull markets. In years when domestic equity and fixed income lag global market and alternative asset classes, diversified multi-asset class portfolios will bolster performance.

While most of us strive to achieve wins in life, at Brinker Capital, we believe that our diversified multi-asset portfolios leave investors okay. And, this is something of which we are truly proud of.

Memorial Day: A time to remember

Noreen D. BeamanNoreen D. Beaman, Chief Executive Officer

Did you know? The original meaning behind Memorial Day, which was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, was to set aside time to remember the brave men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice while serving the United States of America. We encourage all of you to take a moment over the weekend to remember the true meaning of the holiday and honor the men and women who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.

In observance of Memorial Day, Brinker Capital will be closed on Monday, May 29.

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: Five things that I learned this week

Rosenberger_PodcastAndrew Rosenberger, CFA, Senior Investment Manager

On this week’s podcast (recorded January 13, 2017), Andy discusses some of the facts, figures, and interesting tidbits we come across. Quick hits:

  • Families will spend an average of $233,610 per child, from birth through the age of 17.
  • The World Economic Forum’s top five risks are 1) Extreme weather events 2) Large-scale involuntary migration 3) Major natural disasters 4) Large-scale terrorist attacks and 5) Massive incident of data fraud or theft.
  • Student loan debt now tops $1.4 trillion dollars.
  • The currencies of India, Mexico, and Russia are all undervalued to the tune of 25-45%.
  • U.S. oil production is now beginning to increase again.

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

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.

Give thought to how you give this holiday season

Noreen D. BeamanNoreen D. Beaman, Chief Executive Officer

The holidays represent a time when many Americans express love and affection with gifts. Gift giving serves many purposes in our society. It helps define relationships, express feelings, show appreciation, smooth a disagreement, share good fortune, and strengthen bonds. While the joy of giving is undeniable, excessive spending could put your financial goals in jeopardy and ultimately stand in the way of happiness.

The American Research Group projects that the average person will spend $929 on gifts this holiday season. To put this amount in perspective, consider the following:

  • Last year, the average consumer spent $882, so this year consumers believe they will spend on average $47 more than last.
  • The last time consumers spending exceeded $900 was in 2006.
  • We’ve had a somewhat steady climb in spending since 2009 when the average person spent $417.
  • Gift spending peaked in 2001 when the average person spent $1,052 on holiday gifts.

live-simplyAs with any benchmark, the amount of money “the average person” spends on holiday gifts should bear little relevance on your spending. Whether you spend more or less than this projection is a personal choice that is best made with intention and with your own financial situation and goals in mind. These common holiday spending triggers, however, could get in the way of mindfulness and prompt you to spend more than intended.

Keeping up with others. If you try to match the amounts spent by colleagues, friends, family or peers, you could find yourself spending beyond your means and putting your financial goals in jeopardy.

Trying to be fair. A common cause of spend creep happens to create a sense of balance or fairness. When you overspend on one relative, you may be inclined to create equalization by matching the dollar value of gifts for others.

Just getting it done.  For some, holiday shopping is just another task in an already long list of things to accomplish by the end of the calendar year. It’s easy to overspend if you haven’t committed to a spending budget, decided who to buy for and what to get, and taken the time to seek out the best deals.

Autopilot. Sometimes we gift without considering whether the expenditure aligns with current realities. As families evolve, a discussion about how each member would like to celebrate the holidays may be worthwhile. For example, as your extended family grows, it may make sense to discuss a kids-only gift policy, put monetary limits on spending, or do a gift swap.

Self-purchases. Nearly sixty percent of holiday shoppers (58%) will buy for themselves and will spend on average of $139.61 doing so. This year’s projected self-spending is up 4% from 2015 and is at the second-highest level in National Retail Federation survey’s 13-year history.

The holidays only come once a year. Many people enter the holiday season as they would a free zone. They buy until they get to the end of their ever-growing list of recipients. They decorate until every square inch reflects the feeling of festivity in their heart. Unfortunately, many people do so without regard to the implications on short and mid-range financial goals and thus experience feelings of regret.

The act of gift giving has tremendous intrinsic and extrinsic value. A growing body of research suggests that the most important way in which money makes us happy is when we give it away. Gift giving at the expense of long-term financial goals, however, will bring anything but happiness.

Temptations beset all sides of the path to your financial dreams. During the holidays, temptations may take an altruistic form but still involve spending for today’s pleasures and forgetting about the Future You. This holiday season, give thought to how you give because the Future You is depending on your ability to be mindful, spot (over)spending triggers, and positively influence your ability to endure.

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

Addressing post-election anxiety

Crosby_2015Dr. Daniel Crosby, Executive Director, The Center for Outcomes & Founder, Nocturne Capital

Global events, such as the intensely divided presidential election that we just lived through, are certain to generate some periods of market volatility of varying lengths in addition to a significant amount of stress. However, we urge financial advisors and investors to retain a few dos and don’ts to help manage post-election anxiety:

Don’t equate risk with volatility. Volatility does not equal risk. Risk is the likelihood that you will not have the money to live the life you want to live. Paper losses are not “risk” and neither are the gyrations of a volatile market. Long term investors have been rewarded by equity markets, but those rewards come at the price of bravery during periods of short-term uncertainty.

Do know your history. Despite what political pundits and TV commentators would have you believe, this is not an unusually scary time to be alive. The economy continues to grow (slowly) and most quality of life statistics (crime, drug use, teen pregnancy) have been declining for years. Markets have always climbed a wall of worry, rewarding those who stay the course and punishing those who succumb to fear.

Don’t give in to action bias. At most times and in most situations, increased effort leads to improved outcomes. Investing is that rare world where doing less actually gets you more.

Do take responsibility. Most investors are likely to tell you that timing and returns are the biggest drivers of financial performance, but research tells another story. Research suggests that you are the best friend and the worst enemy of your own portfolio. Over the last 20 years, the market has returned roughly 8.25% per annum, but the average retail investor has kept just over 4% of those gains because of poor investment behavior.1 At times when market moves can feel haphazard, it helps to remember who is really in charge.

Don’t focus on the minute to minute. If you are investing in the stock market you have to think long-term. As mentioned above, you can avoid action bias by not checking your portfolio status all day every day, especially during times of higher volatility. Limited looking leads to increased feelings of security and improved decision-making.

Do work with a professional. Odds are that when you chose your financial advisor, you selected him or her because of their academic pedigree, years of experience or a sound investment philosophy. Ironically, what you may have overlooked is the largest value he or she adds—managing your behavior. Studies put the value added from working with an advisor at 2 to 3% per year. Compound that effect over a lifetime, and the power of financial advice quickly becomes evident.

Source: (1) Dalbar, Inc. Quantitative Analysis of Investor Behavior. Boston: Dalbar, 2015.

Views expressed are those of Brinker Capital, Inc. and are for informational/educational purposes.  Opinions and research referring to future actions or events, such as the future financial performance of certain asset classes, indexes or market segments, are based on the current expectations and projections about future events provided by various sources, including Brinker Capital’s Investment Management Group. Information contained within may be subject to change. Diversification does not assure a profit not guarantee against a loss.

Veterans Day: A time to say thank you

Noreen D. BeamanNoreen D. Beaman, Chief Executive Officer

Today we recognize those who have sacrificed careers, precious time with loved ones, and even their lives to answer our country’s call to service.

Please take a moment out of your busy day today to attend a Veterans Day event in your area or simply say thank you to those who are currently serving or have served in the military.

On this Veteran’s Day, we say thank you to our veterans at Brinker Capital—Chuck Widger, Tom Daley, Jimmy Dever, Lee Dolan, Jay O’Brien, Jim O’Hara, Jeff Raupp and Bill Talbot—and to everyone who has served and protected our country.

To be born free is an accident.
To live free is a privilege.
To die free is a responsibility.
–Brig. Gen. James Sehorn

If you’re looking for additional ways to get involved, click here for ideas.

Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor

Brinker Capital Founder and Executive Chairman Charles Widger Makes Historic $25 Million Investment in the Villanova University School of Law

Coyne_HeadshotJohn Coyne, Vice Chairman

All of us at Brinker Capital are proud to recognize the generosity of our founder and executive chairman, Chuck Widger, who has made a transformative $25 million investment in the Villanova University School of Law. In recognition, the school has been renamed the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law.

Chuck, a 1973 Villanova School of Law grad, proudly refers to himself as a “Villanova lawyer,” and has remained involved with the school in various capacities over the years. He has played an active role in its efforts to revolutionize legal education by infusing vital business coursework and practical experience into the Villanova School of Law’s curriculum. Its tagline, “Where Law Meets Business” perfectly captures Chuck’s vision of what law schools should be doing to train tomorrow’s legal, business, government and nonprofit leaders.

Chuck_BlogChuck stated: “My investment in Villanova Law is an investment in the preservation of the two institutions that are vital to a free society, the rule of law and a market economy, both of which will enable us to flourish as a people for generations to come.”

Brinker Capital is pleased to recognize all of our Villanova alumni: Phil Green, Ping Guan, Ed Kelly, Neal McLaughlin, Jeff Raupp and Jamie Shoup.

More information about the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law can be found at: http://www1.villanova.edu/villanova/law.html

Brinker Capital, a Registered Investment Advisor.

Thank You, Veterans

shutterstock_125204504In May of 2011, the Brinker Capital family lost one of its own in Charles “Chief” Burton, who passed away from cancer at the age of 65. As a former Naval officer, we remember Chief on this Veterans Day for the legacy he left and for his unique story that has become a part of our company culture.

During the Vietnam War, Chief was the captain of a PT (Patrol Torpedo) boat tasked with patrolling the rivers in search of enemy strongholds. On one particular instance, he was made aware of an order to take out an enemy village. It just so happened that Chief had recently been through the targeted village and knew that there were no enemy soldiers there. When he communicated this information to the general, he was sternly told to follow orders and continue as instructed. It was then that Chief made a decision that would impact not only his life, but the lives of countless others—he refused the order.

Refusing a direct order from a commanding officer got Chief court-martialed, but the decision to do so proved right. They determined that his intel was right and that there were only civilians in the village they were ordered to attack. Chief was later exonerated and served out his punishment—no ice cream for a week (or something equally as trivial). He would later receive the Navy’s Commendation medal.

Today, Brinker Capital presents the Chief Burton Award of Courage at the end of each year to honor an employee who has faced a difficult situation and met it with the same strength, integrity and bravery as Chief to overcome and make a difference. So on this Veteran’s Day, we say thank you to Chief, our other veterans at Brinker Capital—Chuck Widger, Lee Dolan, Tom Daley, Jeff Raupp, Jay O’Brien, Jim O’Hara and Bill Talbot—and to everyone who has served and protected our country.

Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor