AFTER MEETING one of the authors at a book-signing, I was prompted to read "How Remarkable Women Lead," by Susie Cranston and Joanna Barsh. The book is a collection of interviews with female business leaders we read about in the press. How these women developed the skills needed to get to the top is a great read for anyone, especially a young woman starting out today.
What piqued my interest, however, was the opening chapter that dealt with happiness. As we might expect, all these female captains of industry were pretty happy. But surprisingly, the so-called "set point" for happiness is 50 percent genetic. After that, our circumstances in life such as gender, age, relationships and how we get to spend our time are what contribute the other half of the happiness quotient. Apparently, we can only be just so happy, thanks to our genetic makeup, and the impact of circumstance just moves us up or down within the band that has been inherited.
So where does that leave the "retail therapy" our economy cries for. In New York City, I was relieved to notice that there was a line of people sleeping outside Best Buy on Thanksgiving night so they could be first in line to buy, what?, a flat screen TV for a few hundred dollars off list price? Those folks in sleeping bags were still spending a lot of money, even after getting the special deal, on something that they may have been able to do without.
Knowing that happiness is basically an inherited trait, whatever these urban guerillas were buying may have had little to do with their feeling of general well-being.
Given a fortunate set of "happiness" genes, many people in retirement may be surprised at how happy they can feel with a relatively small amount of money. Research shows that in the end, what we thought would be bad things don't bother us as much as we thought they would. The "bad thing," of course, for those anticipating retirement, is that they won't have enough money. The "good thing" that they may have thought would give them a lot of pleasure, having plenty of money for retirement, turns out to be not as satisfying as they expected. Denying pleasure in younger years in order to scrimp and save for retirement may be viewed, in retrospect, as possibly having been a misallocation of resources. It's retirement's equivalent of "buyers' remorse."
Human nature has us anticipating that bad experiences will be worse than they turn out to be. On the flip side, it is common to overestimate the pleasure of a purchase, relationship, experience, or a financial situation in retirement. George Lowenstein, a renowned researcher on the subject of "adaptation," points out that "Our brains are not trying to be happy. Our brains are trying to regulate us." This explains why having more money beyond a middle class lifestyle doesn't make us happier. For those trying to weigh retirement saving versus life experiences that cost money, this might be helpful to know.
Real happiness comes from the experience of how we live from day to day. "Take joy in the endeavor." "The journey is the destination "..." Call it what you will. The common denominator for "Remarkable Women Who Lead" is that they put themselves in situations where they were happy with their daily experience.
One of many kernels of wisdom, for example, is to leave any job where a boss is unsupportive or boorish. Another is to have a sense of what is personally important. One leader turned down dinner at the White House so she could deliver her daughter to summer camp. This is a book about successful people creating amazing lives against heavy odds in corporate America, and apparently loving almost every minute of it.