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The Gold Standard

07 March 2011

We are in April. 2010 is a third over. My resolution to benchmark my life to certain gold standards has undergone a few small life repairs lately, but is basically sustainable. It's about finding a happy balance between effort and resignation or is that compromise?

When your relationships change tack, your cat suddenly dies, and your looking to buy a new place to live you need some benchmarks to set daily performance by and you need savings in the 'happiness' bank as much as the physical bank to draw upon.

So, I've been packing and storing, negotiating home loan pre-approval, and spending Saturdays and sometimes bits of Wednesday with the rest of a hectic Sydney property market suffering viewing overload. It's required a sense of humour and strong fingers - what with all that lifting, dragging, and carting.

So, the other day I saw a sweet little place for sale. It was the first time it was open for inspection and more than 150 people went through the door in the 30-minute Saturday lunchtime real estate slot. That's a crowd of shoes for 62 square metres. What's even more staggering is that by the Monday they'd slapped a SOLD sign up. Financial crises over - I am not sure. Spending ludicrous amounts of money on property quick and fast - well, someone is.

Which brought me to thinking about why people save, and for what.

Memories, or as Natalie Isaacs from terms it: \"memory anchors\", are one.

All well and good, except there's the potential to suffer the fate of Carlos Brauer in the novella, \"The House of Paper\". His obsession with book collecting and developing his own indexing system is driving him mad. Eventually tipping him over the edge when he loses his index system in a fire while reading 19th century novels by candlelight.

\"Just imagine for a moment that over your lifetime you've stored up memories... right up to the present.

\"Then one day, unexpectedly, you lose the sequence of these memories. They're still there, but you can't find them. You search for the image of your first wife, and you find the shoe a dog was chewing in a distant childhood wasteland.... Your personal history is lost.\"

Act now think later

Or is the answer to a worthwhile savings plan to inspire a million Australian women to take practical action on climate change? It's certainly, Natalie's passion along with memory anchors.

We save on CO2 gas. We act for a sustainable world at a local level. Seems worthwhile to save the planet, and an altogether easier action plan for individuals to take on when compared with Camille Parmesan's Noah's Ark style theory of \"assisted colonisation\". The Texan butterfly biologist wants to pick up \"entire communities of plants and animals, rather than a few token species... and shift those populations... [somewhere] within close range.\" It's not quite elephants on the American prairies but it's heading that way.

Happy now

I'd like to bottle and save happiness. (And then maybe find a retail outlet for it and make a large fortune.) There's a course you can do at Harvard to become happier. It's run by Tal Ben-Shahar, a Harvard graduate in philosophy and psychology. According to the dust jacket on the course book (available through McGraw Hill), approximately 20% of all Harvard graduates choose to enrol in it. That's a lot of happier people (about 1400 students a semester) and I am wondering if it is making its presence felt in American business, academic and professional life or whether the GFC has dragged everything backward.

The jury is possibly still out on that but the dust jacket does further promise a happier life without the need for a lotto windfall, job promotion or new love. Not so, if you take Bertrand Russell's The Conquest of Happiness as your self-help bible. Then, it appears, Affection is most definitely a cause of Happiness. Russell also subscribes to the need for the \"golden mean\" in our lives (a version of the gold standard perhaps). Even if it is, as he points out: \"an uninteresting doctrine\". In the end preserving the golden mean: \"finding ways to cope with the multitudinous causes of unhappiness\", is the only way to happiness.

Or, why not get yourself on a \"Happiness Board... a group of people who care about you and your well-being, and who will hold you accountable to the ultimate currency.\"

It maybe - until we all make more inroads into that space still held predominantly by men in Australia - the only board you'll get on.