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Look Inside Yourself

True happiness lies in a higher quality of life, not a higher income.

By Lynne Ticknor, M.A. | null , null

When I was a kid, my mother would often say, “Money isn’t everything.” I had no idea what she meant. What I did know was that crisp dollar bills could get you chocolate bars, movie tickets, and toys — that wasn’t everything, but it seemed like a lot to a kid. When I became older, money to me meant new clothes and pizza with friends — the stuff teens covet to fit in. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized that my average American family had had all we needed. Of course, I wanted more from time to time, but what kid (or adult) doesn’t fantasize about being rich? Now that I’m in charge of my own family’s finances, however, I can plainly see that money is not what makes me happy, and that it never really was — just like it wasn’t what made my parents happy. In a very Zen philosophical way, my mother was right: There are greater things to aspire to in life than wealth. There’s a happy marriage, and self confidence, and the joy of parenthood, to name just a few.

A Better Measure
I wonder if my mom adopted the “money isn’t everything” mantra, at least in part, because she figured it was easier to accept our position on the income bracket ladder than to fight it. Probably. Despite how much less stressful things can be when you don’t have to count every penny, she realized that happiness was for the taking, big bank account or not, if she focused on the things in life that really matter.

Mom trained me well. I still count nearly every one of my pennies (what mother doesn’t these days?), but I’m content as long as my bills are paid and my family is healthy. That may sound cliché, but that’s just how I see things. In a society that often encourages us to size ourselves up based on what’s in our wallets, I found that a better measuring stick is my own quality of life. By striving to improve a few key areas of your life (and appreciating what you’re already blessed with), you’ll find more contentment, too. Here are some areas to look into.

Health and Wellness
It’s easy to take wellness for granted if you and your family are in pretty good shape. If you are, you’re already way ahead of the game. If you have room for improvement, consider addressing any issues that you have the power to control. Emotional and physical health are intimately tied to one another, and neither of the two can be bought for all the gold in the world. The better we feel, the more positively we view life. If you’ve ever dealt with a difficult health issue, you know exactly what I mean. If you haven’t, think of it this way: How content are you when you’ve got a pounding headache? We’ve all read about how exercise can improve our mental and physical health — there’s your first move. Go for a walk with the dog or play soccer with your kids. Stay up on the latest women’s health issues at For the whole family, try

At its most basic level, I worry for the safety of my children and my husband every day. But when I know that my home, and as much of life outside of it as possible, is safe for my family, I can rest easier. Living in a safe environment is one of the prime indicators of quality of life. Have you ever heard of the Popsicle Index? It’s a way to talk about the percentage of people who believe that a child in a particular community can walk safely from his home to the nearest possible location to buy a Popsicle and walk home again without the threat of crime. I’d like to think that in my town, the Index is at 100. The great info at can help you make your home and neighborhood safer, and set your mind at ease.

Family Life
Families that play together, stay together. Ah, but there are those days filled with carpools, homework, illness, dirty laundry, and appointments that take up so much time and wear me out by the end of the day. Still, enjoying my kids is high on my list, and as long as I get some bonding time in with them before I hit the sack, I feel peaceful and rejuvenated as I drift off to sleep. We might cook dinner or play a game, for instance. In my house, we’re big Scrabble Jr. fans. (Find more ideas for a night of family fun here!)

Your Environment
What does your home say about your life? Each family has a different style, but keeping things orderly can keep things relaxed. You don’t need to have everything in its color-coded place at all times, but keeping your home healthy the same way you keep your body healthy helps make sure your to-do list doesn’t pile up too high. If a curtain rod snaps, replace it as soon as you get the chance. Respect your space, and teach your kids to do the same — I’ve found that the most effective method is to lead by example. When I’m lazy, the kids start leaving their shoes and coats and toys everywhere. When I’m neat, they follow suit! In addition to maintaining your space, there are easy ways to improve it. Fill your home with colors that make you happy by painting the walls brightly and tossing a few exotic throw pillows on the couch. Change up a furniture arrangement. Add a few houseplants.

Looking back on adolescence, I often wonder how we made it through pimples, boyfriend woes, hormone changes, and pressure to get good grades. I’ve come to the conclusion that it must have been because when we were in school, we were surrounded by friends who would help us solve our troubles — or at least do something goofy to make us forget about them for a while. Even when I’m in a good mood, connecting with peers makes me feel more animated and engaged. As a working mom, I deal with my fair share of kids and colleagues, but I make an effort to stay in touch with friends, too. Simple things like calling to share a joke, posting a quick message on a girlfriend’s Facebook wall, or dropping a postcard in the mail just to say hello instantly make me feel more chipper. Technology makes it easy these days, what with all of the social networking sites, texting, and e-mail. And while going out on the town for a girls’ night is not really my thing anymore, I do love genuine face time with my pals in the form of dinner and a movie.

Leisure Time
Not surprisingly, studies have shown that people who make time for hobbies and plain old relaxation report increased levels of happiness and a greater overall feeling of satisfaction with life. The old adage is true: No one on his deathbed ever wishes he had spent more time in the office. If you need to, and if you can, try to reconfigure your work schedule so that you have time every day for a good novel, a walk with your kids, a book club meeting, or an art class.

About the Author

Lynne Ticknor, M.A., is a certified parent educator and a freelance writer specializing in child development, parenting, and family issues.

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