Money and What Makes Life Worth Living

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What makes life worth living? This question is at the heart of financial life planning and financial therapy.

I remember my late mentor Dick Wagner, CFP, talking about reviewing a person's financial statement during a visit to Japan. Along with the normal categories of assets was one headed "Worthliving" that had no dollar amount associated with it. Dick asked what that category meant. His host answered, "Those are the assets that make life worth living that are priceless and can’t quantitatively be measured by financial means, like family, health, occupation, etc."

As Dick told the story, money was never mentioned as part of the "worth living" assets. I was left wondering where the Japanese ranked financial assets. Were they inclusive or exclusive of what made life worth living? What do people around the world value in life?

A recent study by Pew Research Center, November 18, 2021, on "What Makes Life Meaningful?’ finally resolved my curiosity. The survey asked respondents from 17 developed nations to rank 17 topics for their importance in bringing meaning to their lives. On a global basis, family was the number one source of meaning in life, followed by occupation/career. Material (financial) wellbeing was ranked third, with friends fourth and mental and physical health fifth.

I was not surprised that the Japanese ranked family, occupation, and health in their top five; I was surprised to see material (financial) wellbeing in second place, behind family. In neighboring South Korea, material wellbeing was ranked first. It was ranked in the top three in Taiwan, Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, Canada, Italy, and the U.S. Material wellbeing was ranked fourth or better in all countries except Greece.