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The happiness dichotomy

Oct 21, 2021

The relationship between wealth and happiness has long been the subject of debate. Here, we explore how those going through wealth transitions can re-discover a vital sense of purpose, and how building real human connections is essential for being content in all aspects of life.

Happiness, it could be said, is the ultimate human goal; the measure by which all aspects of our lives can be benchmarked. A happy life speaks of connection and contentment, of adventure, of love. It speaks of the absence of loneliness and acts as a buffer against self-doubt. But, just as there can be risk in pursuing success for the trappings of success itself, viewing happiness as something to be achieved in its own right could mean overlooking the nuances of modern life.

It’s a dichotomy that’s particularly apparent among those in positions of wealth transitions; entrepreneurs selling the businesses they’ve taken years – often decades – to build, or young adults of the next generation assuming the often-daunting responsibility of inherited wealth or long-established organisations.

The pursuit of happiness

“Happiness cannot be pursued, it must ensue,” wrote psychologist Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning. “One must have a reason to be happy1.” Often, what drives the most financially successful is more than simply financial success, says Karina Challons, Managing Director, Wealth Planning and Advisory at HSBC Private Banking.

Many clients in a position of transition find a revived sense of purpose in starting new businesses, or ploughing their skills into charitable causes that they’re passionate about.

“A lot of people at the stage of selling a business feel that they’ve spent their lives building it up, so when they’ve attained all those financial goals there’s a feeling of ‘what now?’” says Challons.“It’s like when we face our own mortality. It might be the death of a friend or a major health scare, and suddenly people need to re-think their objectives and what their purpose is. It’s often similar for people selling businesses.”

An objective perspective

For Challons, working with clients and their families during times of transition in order to identify their short and long-term objectives is key to planning a future that is both financially secure and purpose driven.

“It’s our job as Advisors and Relationship Managers to have those, sometimes tough, conversations with clients about how to manage their wealth going forward and exactly what it is they want to do,” says Challons.

“Some people are very focused. They know their plans and they’ve got ideas. Other people want to discuss it or might need support with ideas or connections, with setting up a charitable endeavour or putting infrastructure in place to manage their wealth going forward. 

“In order to help with the financial aspects, you need to understand what people want to achieve, what their ambitions are and what their concerns are. It’s also vital to get to know the people themselves – what motivates them and worries them; what keeps them awake at night. It’s not just about finance, and it’s fundamental to what we do.”

Creating connections

For many operating in high-speed, often high-pressure business environments, there will be a strong support network of colleagues, mentors, investors and other stakeholders around them. Such human connections are vital to our happiness. But, according to a study by Patricia Greenfield of UCLA, social connectedness is often de-prioritised as a person becomes wealthier, which can lead to feelings of disconnection and isolation.

“We become more individualistic, less family and community oriented,” said Greenfield, on analysis of the results.

For those going through a transition of wealth – between generations, for example – having practical help in re-establishing connections and improving communications is essential for preparing all parties with the long-term coping skills required.

“One of the things we do is support clients in managing relationships within the family, and help them identify the type of support they need,” explains Challons. “This can be particularly helpful for families as we have a lot of experience with other people in similar situations.”

A shared vision

While selling a business can be hugely stressful, the inheritance of wealth and its associated responsibilities for the next generation also requires specialist support in order to ensure an aligned vision for the future and minimise overwhelm.

“It’s a big responsibility for a lot of next generation children,” says Challons. “They might be 18, they might be 30, so the requirement and the levels of understanding can vary dramatically. We get involved with families on a bespoke basis to help educate and prepare the next generation, so they understand more about what their new role will require of them.

“Generating a sense of purpose across generations often requires a deeper understanding of the responsibility they have within the family and how they can contribute to that. It’s important that all members of the family are involved in that.”

It’s vital to get to know the people themselves; what motivates them and worries them, what keeps them awake at night. It’s not just about finance - Karina Challons, Managing Director, Wealth Planning and Advisory

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