How money can buy happiness – Part 2, Health

They say wealth don’t buy health, but I don’t see many rich people dying from malaria

Health. The great equaliser. If you have your health you have everything, and if you don’t, no amount of money will matter. Yet, money matters for your health. Money doesn’t guarantee health, but a lack of money has a strong co-relation with poor health. In other words money isn’t a requirement to be healthy, but today it is a great enabler. Even in industrialised nations with universal health care, having more money improves your health, on average. Obesity, and the diabetes, joint problems and heart disease that comes with it, is far more common among the working class and the unemployed than among the middle and upper class.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and thus not qualified to give medical advice. I’m giving you INVESTMENT advice (which requires no qualifications whatsoever), on how you can spend money to become happier. Some of those things involve improving your health. As always, consult with your doctor before you do anything that might get you killed.

Seriously, I don’t want to lose any readers! 🙂

Health effects everything

Health is a major enabler for happiness. It effects both your ability to take part in things that makes you happy, and your ability to enjoy those things. Constant pain or lack of energy can turn an otherwise enjoyable activity into a chore: if you don’t believe me, try eating your favourite food, cooked to perfection, while suffering from a bad case of acid reflux. Further, many activities that are close to torture if you’re in poor health are only minor inconveniences if you’re in good health. Walking up a long flight of stairs is never going to be fun, but it gets a lot less annoying if you’re not short of breath from chain smoking. Finally, remember how in Part 1 I wrote you couldn’t easily get more hours out of the day? Investing in your health is one way you can, because smart health investments will give you more energy, make you sleep better, and thus get more productive hours in a day! And you’re likely to live longer as well. “Ok Sam”, you say. “We know health is great, get to the spending part!”

How to invest in your health

#1. Eat food, not shit. If you work in an office in a industrialised country, what you eat is likely the biggest factor for your health. Making significant changes through exercise is a major commitment, but you can significantly improve your health without doing anything simply by not eating too much shit. But healthy eating can be confusing:  Can you put butter in your coffee if you avoid gluten? Are eggs good or bad for you this week? Is eating cute animals better for your health than ugly animals? Should you only drink the kind of beer cavemen drank? Luckily, by investing some money you can get the benefits of healthy eating without understanding all of the details. The key to healthy eating is to eat food, not shit. If you aren’t sure if something is food or shit, it’s probably shit. Things that are “cooked” by adding powder to water is almost certainly shit, and most cheap fast food and “all you can eat” buffé food is going to have a high shit-to-food ratio.

The easiest way is obviously to pay someone else to do your healthy cooking. Short of getting a personal chef, that means eating out. In bigger cities, there is usually a decent selection of restaurants that will offer actual food made out of things you find in nature (such as vegetables and the dead critters). I’m not going to tell you what you should be eating to be healthy, beyond the eat food, not shit rule, I’m simply going to suggest that investing in eating food instead of shit is likely to have a positive impact on your health.

If you DO want someone to tell you what to eat, your best investment is to consult a dietist. While there is plenty of free advice on the internet, taking advice from strangers who know nothing about your situation is usually not a great idea (but hey, you’re doing it right now!) A good dietist can suggest not only what you should eat, but also where you can get it (including restaurants that will serve it). A big challenge of healthy eating is knowing what is right for you: a pregnant coal miner has different needs than a diabetic office-dweller. Consulting a dietist can help you solve that problem. And if you’re the kind of person who like to have clear rules to follow, having your meal plan designed by a professional may make it easier for you to follow it.

Finally, while this section is called eat food, not shit, I’m not suggesting you should go completely locally-grown-organic-hipster unless you really want to. If you like to have a croissant with your Sunday breakfast, or find yourself downing a protein shake instead of lunch, I’m not going to judge you. We are not trying to become fitness models, the goal here is to become happier through being healthier. Sometimes happiness is a piece of chocolate or a glass of wine with your friends. Nobody likes to be around a carb-hunting nutcase, so please don’t become one! 

#2. Physical activity. Exercise, as most of us think about it, has less impact on your health than you think. Making significant health improvements through going to the gym or playing sports requires significant commitment, and I would only suggest it if you’re able to make a serious investment of both time, money and willpower. Yet, regular physical activity has so many benefits we would be fools not to invest somewhat in it. Exercise (when done right) reduces the risk of chronic back problems, improves your digestion, raises your energy level and lets you sleep better. The best Return On Investment is just going for a walk every day. If you have the time (see Part 1 for that) include it as part of your daily commute. Walking doesn’t even cost you any money (except you’ll wear out your shoes a lot faster) and you’ll probably break even on the time you spend because you’ll be more productive as a result of your exercise. If you live in a country where it’s rainy, snowy, cold, dark and/or miserable most of the year, you may prefer doing your exercise indoors. If you’re considering taking up a sport or joining a gym, your happiness depend on three things:

  • Finding something you enjoy doing, or at least something you can tolerate.
  • Make sure it’s sustainable.
  • Doing it right.

Finding something you enjoy doing usually just involves trying things out. This is extremely important because the end result we’re after here is to buy happiness; health is simply a way to get there. Doing a form of exercise you do not enjoy is a sure way to become miserable in the short run, and miserable and unhealthy in the long run. On the other hand, doing something you enjoy is likely to raise your happiness in itself. To find something you enjoy, consider not only the activity itself but also everything surrounding it; I enjoy combat sports, and I love the result of that kind of training, but I can’t stand group trainings. In the end, combat sports didn’t raise my happiness because the benefits are countered by the fact that I’m forced to exercise in a setting I don’t enjoy. I moved on to weight lifting and walking, which while not as much fun, contributed more to my over all happiness. You could be different; I know people who do not like the actual exercise at group trainings, but enjoy the social aspect so much they still end up enjoying it.

Sustainability means that you can keep doing something for a long time with the minimum hassle. Minimise everything that gives you an excuse not to be physically active. To me it’s better to pay a high price to join a mediocre gym next to my apartment, rather than getting a great deal on an awesome gym further away. Make it easy to be physically active. Don’t depend on unreliable people (everyone has that one friend who never shows up on time – don’t make that person your training partner), and don’t make your activity dependent on things you cannot control, like the weather.

Finally, making sure you’re doing it right is easily achieved by getting someone to teach you: personal trainers, running coaches, boxing instructors; whatever it is you chose to do to stay active, there will be someone who happily takes your money to show you how to improve your technique. Bad technique is a great way to hurt yourself, and that isn’t going to make you happy (if you enjoy getting hurt, there are more enjoyable ways!)

A note on dietists and personal trainers: One of the best investment advice I’ve ever gotten is to never invest in someone with passion. Passion blinds you to risk and adversity. Passion helps people achieve things, but it also makes it harder for them to be objective about those things; passionate people frequently go to great lengths to make fairly small improvements. That is the exact opposite of what you want to increase your happiness: you want someone who will give you low risk, low effort, high reward advice. If you’re investing in happiness through better health, you probably aren’t passionate about health, and you want advice that works for non-passionate people. It’s no good having a perfect meal plan that requires you to visit 6 special stores a week to buy the ingredients needed to slow-cooked organically-grown leather boots, or a training program that requires you to get up at 4am to lift kettle bells for two hours. When it comes to your health, you don’t want passionate people to project their passion on you: you want the grumpy Dr House who thinks you’re silly but will find out exactly what is wrong with you, and fix it.

#3. Sleep. After food, sleep is probably the most important thing you can invest in. If you’re not sleeping well, nothing else will matter much. You can have all the time in the world, but you won’t be able to do anything with it, and no matter how well things are going for you you won’t be enjoying them if you’re not sleeping enough. What consists “enough sleep” differs for different people, but you generally know when you’re not getting it.

If you’re working in an environment where people celebrate not sleeping, the best investment you can do is to get out of it. Seriously, this is the best investment in health and happiness you can ever make. I try not to give absolute advice, since everyone is different, but I will tell you this: you do NOT want to be on #teamnosleep. They’re a losing team. Who are proud of losing. Sometimes you have to burn the midnight oil in order to get your shit done, but it’s not something to be proud of. It’s like scrubbing the toilet: you sometimes have to do it, but not something you brag about on Instagram. If you’re stuck in a job where lack of sleep is worn as a badge of merit, you should start working on an exit strategy; it’s the equivalent of working with people who come into work while sick, and take pride in coughing on you. Even if you don’t join in, you’re still getting their diseases on you. 

The biggest improvement I made in quality of sleep was getting a new bed. I thought my old bed was good enough, until I had to travel extensively for work: sleeping in a different bed not only improved the quality of my sleep (despite the stress of travel and new assignments), it also caused a lingering lumbar pain to go away. It turns out, my old bed was great when I was 40lbs heavier, but wrong for me now. Remember that you will spend, on average, between a third and a fourth of your life in bed: it’s a good place to make some investments. As well as investing in the right bed, you want to invest in a good sleeping environment. Make sure you have a quiet, cool and dark place to sleep.

Putting it all together

Obviously, these things work well together. If you’re sleeping well and eating right, you’ll have an easier time being physically active. Being physically active and eating well will make it much easier to sleep. Freeing up time will make it much easier to get your needed physical exercise and sleep. All of these things will position you for greater happiness; even if what you enjoy most in life is eating cheese doodles and watching Netflix, it’s more enjoyable if you’re healthy.

These just keep getting longer; part 3 coming soon!

How money can buy happiness! – Part 1

At one time, when negotiating a raise, my manager at the time told me “But Sam, I read some research showing that more money doesn’t actually make you happier or more satisfied at work.” “That’s great news!” I said. “Then you can take a 10% pay cut and give that money to me without losing any motivation!” This worked about as well as you could expect it to, and I fired this manager from my career within a year.

Picture symbolising the love of money
Money can’t buy love, but it can buy a Ferrari, and I love Ferraris!

If our parents were raised to pursue career and money, my generation has been raised to believe that “money isn’t that important (as long as you have enough)”. Research seems to support this to some extent: once you can afford a relatively safe, comfortable life, where you can take care of your family and pursue at least one of your interests, it is hard to spend your way to significant happiness… or so the data says! I think everyone can agree that if you have very little money, a bit more can make a big difference. The difference between being able to pay rent, and being evicted, is huge. Especially if you live in a country where it’s dark and cold half of the year, and rains 80% of the time. However, I am a strong believer in the idea that even if you’re well off, money CAN significantly improve your happiness IF you use it wisely. Here are some ways you can use your money to directly influence your happiness:

Buy time

“Whomever said that time waits for no man clearly didn’t spend much time in meetings. I’ve met people who could seemingly invert the flow of time by the use of powerpoint and excessive use of the word ‘digitalisation’.”

Simply put, if you’re working today, you are most likely trading your time for money at a very unfavourable rate. While skill, education and the mythical “talent” plays into HOW much money you get for your precious time, the vast majority of us are still being paid at an hourly rate, either directly by billing per hour, or indirectly by contracts where we work a minimum amount of time each week for a set amount of money. If you are lucky you get overtime.

Selling your time for money is always going to be a bad deal, because time is a finite resource; you only have 24 hours a day, and you can’t easily get more of it. I am convinced that part of the reason why money so often fails to bring happiness is that people get more money by working longer, more stressful hours. Overachievers work long hours while chasing a promotion and a big payout, but when they get it, they do not have time to enjoy it. The new career brings with it more work and no satisfaction. In the best case, they spend their new-earned wealth on status symbols, and then end up working even more to make the payments on those status symbols. In the worst case, they find themselves with nothing left except work. More than one successful person have lost their loved ones and even themselves to the “busyness monster”. 

Traffic jam
Your life on busyness

We know that we need some money to be entertained, safe, warm and fed. Let us assume that your baseline for “enough money” is making $50 000 US/year; this amount lets you live at a comfortable level, provide some security for your loved ones, and allows you to pursue at least one moderately priced hobby. At this point, you should change your focus from trying to get more money to trying to get more time to be able to enjoy the money you are making! 

The most obvious way to do this is to cut back on the hours you’re working. If you’re making money above your baseline working in a high-demand field, you may be able to trade your full-time position for a part time that pays less and still stay above your baseline, but many part-timers end up working the equivalent of full-time in unpaid overtime anyway. The easiest way is probably to go into consulting, which I strongly recommend if you like the idea of being self employed, and get more happiness out of freedom than the illusion of the security of a steady job. Some consultants also manage to tie their compensation to a result rather than a number of hours worked, which is great if you’re able to do your job quickly. But consulting isn’t for everyone.

The easiest thing you can do, that doesn’t have to cost much (but as always, having the money helps) is reduce your commute, or make the commute more efficient. Ask yourself how much time do you spend traveling every day? Even a short commute adds up to several hours a week; when I completed an assignment within walking distance and took on one with a fairly short (35 minutes one way) commute, I lost 12.5% of my free time every day! I would bargain long and hard before I accepted a 12.5% pay cut, yet I take this commute for granted. A longer commute can easily add up to 2 unpaid hours of work every day, and if you travel during rush hours, it’s unlikely to be a comfortable two hours! If you have a good idea that you will work in a certain area for the foreseeable future, seriously consider re-locating to shorten your commute. If you do not know where you will be working tomorrow (if you are a consultant, for example) the best thing is to make sure you live close to a major communications hub. If none of these are viable, try to negotiate for flexible working hours or being able to work from home a couple of days a week. I turned a slow, dull 35 minutes drive into a relaxing, enjoyable 15 minute cruise on empty roads by leaving home 20 minutes later every morning. Rush hour traffic doesn’t just waste your time, it drains your energy as well, so being able to avoid it is a double gain for your happiness. Which hours you work can be as important as how many hours you work. 

Finally, you can take a cue from Tim Ferris and try to outsource part of your life. While not all of us are comfortable with getting virtual assistants, chores such as cleaning, laundry and cooking are easily outsourced. An alternative is to simply remove

Of course, getting more time doesn’t matter if you use it poorly. Don’t waste it on Netflix or browsing Facebook. Meet up with an old friend, read a book to your children, take your dog for a long walk. Use your money to buy time, and use that time to buy life. And don’t worry so much about “letting everyone down” by not making money above your baseline. Yeah, it’s nice to buy your partner presents and giving your kids all the toys they are dreaming about, but look back at your own life: how many of those toys and presents you got are still a big part of your life? Speaking for myself, what I remember from my life isn’t the toys and games (though I no doubt enjoyed those too), it’s memories of my mother reading to me as a kid, of my dog falling asleep with his head in my lap, of helping my grandmother in the garden, or my grandfather teaching me the basics of woodworking (and managing to do so without me losing any fingers, bless the man). I remember people taking time to be with me far more than I remember how fancy of a house we were spending time in.

Well, this turned out to be a LOT longer than expected, so this article will be a two-parter. Part 2 coming next week! Until then, take some time and rest up 🙂 


Image By Rgoogin at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,