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Remember money is not all there is to happiness

By Ira Zunin

LAST UPDATED: 1:43 a.m. HST, Sep 4, 2010

Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board and arguably the most powerful person in the monetary world, recently gave a speech at the University of South Carolina. He cautioned the student body to guard against choosing a career simply because it would be lucrative. Instead, he encouraged those in the audience to seek a livelihood that for each individual was the path of heart. Bernanke implied that a profession motivated by passion, fascination, a creative instinct or a call to service would more likely result in sustainable satisfaction. He argued that once one becomes settled into a life at any level of wealth, the money buzz wears off.

Not only does the money buzz tend to fade, but a relative drop in assets, even for high net worth individuals, often results in fear, anxiety and a decline in self-worth. During the dotcom crisis in 2000, we learned of a new niche for psychologists in Silicon Valley. They were treating millionaires for depression, ones whose estates dropped in value, say, from $50 million to $20 million. These people still had more money than they could possibly spend, but the realization that the amount they possessed had shrunk was more than they could bear.

In the current economic slowdown, as during the dotcom crisis, it's not uncommon for a person's anxiety about money to affect physical health. Stress about money issues can even weaken the immune system.

Appreciating these frailties of human nature as regards material wealth, in 1972, the king of Bhutan coined the term Gross National Happiness (GNH), within which Gross Domestic Product (GDP) becomes just one consideration. Today GNH combines economic wellness with environmental, political and social wellness, even in the workplace. It also encompasses physical and of course mental health.

In recent years, the Economist named Ireland the best place to live in the world. The study considered material wealth, the environment, health and employment. It also gave significant weight to political stability and security, and social criteria including gender equality, and family and community life.

To be sure, Ireland has been hit extremely hard in the current recession. Unemployment has risen and the property market is devastated, but cohesive family and community values have remained steadfast and today support Ireland's people during this difficult time.

We needn't look as far as Asia or Europe or even across the pond to California for models to cultivate a healthy perspective on what really defines the good life. Our own Polynesian Voyaging Society reminds us of traditional Hawaiian guiding values: Malama Aina, nourish and protect the land; Lokomaika'i, share with one another; Na'au Pono, nurture a deep sense of justice; and Olakino Maika'i, live in a healthy manner.

When surfing, we tend to think that we are doing well when we find ourselves riding a choice wave. It struck me one day that riding the wave is the easy part. When we paddle out and get pounded by the surf but keep going with calm determination, that's when we are really doing well. It's like that with money. We need to work for it, be fair with it, use it wisely and learn from our experiences. Especially during times of financial adversity, we have a unique opportunity to take stock of nonmonetary sources of strength and support and remember what is truly of value. There is nothing like family, friends, community and the natural beauty that surrounds us on the islands.

Ira Zunin M.D., MPH, MBA, is medical director of Manakai O Malama Integrative Healthcare Group and Rehabilitation Center and CEO of Global Advisory Services Inc. Please submit your questions to

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