And it has nothing to do with "In God We Trust" printed on a $20 bill.
Every year, the respected Harris Poll quizzes thousands of Americans about their overall satisfaction with life. It’s called the Happiness Index — and this year’s headline is, “American Happiness at All-Time Low.”
When Harris launched the Happiness Index in 2008, 35 percent of Americans said they were happy. In 2016, it’s down to 31 percent.
Of course, this doesn’t answer the question, “Why are we unhappier?” I dove deeper into the numbers and found only two sub-categories that had swings of 5 percent or more from last year to this year…
- 71 percent of Americans agreed with this statement in 2015: “My spiritual beliefs are a positive guiding force to me.” Today, it’s down to 66 percent.
- 67 percent of Americans agreed with this statement in 2015: “I frequently worry about my financial situation.” Today, it’s down to 62 percent.
To sum up: Americans are better off financially but worse off spiritually.
Every other sub-category in the Happiness Index edged up or down by much less than the money and God sub-categories. For instance, 89 percent had “positive relationships” with families last year, and it dropped to 88 percent this year. Likewise, 75 percent were “optimistic about he future” last year, compared to 72 this year.
So how can the Happiness Index by at an “all-time low” if only two categories dropped significantly? While I’m no expert on spirituality, I’ve been studying personal finance for more than two decades, and I think I can posit a theory…
Money and God are two of the most important topics in our lives.
I’m certainly not saying money is as important as God. I am saying both categories permeate our lives. For instance, those other sub-categories of the Happiness Index are all affected when we have less money and less connection to God.
Don’t believe me? If you feel like you’ve lost your spirituality, then it’s possible you’re not optimistic about the future. If you’re in debt, it’s possible your family relationships are affected, because you don’t have the money to pay for your children’s clothing or college, much less retirement for you and your spouse.
Perhaps I’m just reinforcing what I already believe, but I’m convinced that financial independence is crucial for happiness. It has nothing to do with greed, which I define as the pursuit of money to the exclusion of God and family. Money is the means to happiness, not the goal.