Book Review--All The Money In The World: What The Happiest People Know About Getting And Spending by Laura Vanderkam

Our beliefs about money are deep, often conflicting, and intensely complicated. Just about everyone has areas in their life where they splurge and other areas where thrift reigns supreme. But what would you do if you had all the money in the world? This common fantasy-inducing question isn't just an idle daydream, it can actually help lead you toward finding ways to live better with the money you already have. Laura Vanderkam, the author of 168 Hours, a book on how we spend our time, has written a new book, All The Money In The World, about how we spend our money.

This book is less of a financial guide and more of a consideration of the role of money. It offers plenty of ideas for challenging societal mores in regards to spending and encourages the reader to think about where they truly want their money to go. In many ways, what we spend our money on should reflect our values and the things that are important to us. Vanderkam's answer to the age-old question of whether or nor can money buy happiness is a strong but qualified yes. It may not change overall happiness long term but, as many would certainly attest to, a little more money can make day-to-day living a lot sweeter.

The author challenges the traditional model of saving for retirement in order to not work. Most people in today's world will likely work past the traditional retirement age and it isn't necessarily a bad thing. The key to happiness is finding a job that is rewarding enough to want to do later in life. Encore careers often involve flexible hours and more freedom.

She also considers the pursuit of the American dream of the big house on a large, green lawn and two cars in the garage.  Do these things actually make us happier? Can we scale back or modify our behavior and make our lives easier and more fun?  Vanderkam asks the reader to reevaluate the trade offs we make on a daily basis-- the longer commute for the bigger house, the more soul-draining job for the fancier commute--and see what can be changed. Research shows that experiences are more important than stuff when it comes to happiness and building memories.

Donating is also an important part of mapping up the happiness your money can buy. It doesn't just have to be charitable donations. Micro-philanthropy, random acts of generosity, can give you little lifts of joy. Investing, generally a dull task for most people, can be exciting if the investment fuels a start-up or local small business.

It turns out however, that the biggest challenge when it comes to the money-happiness connection is keeping the magic alive. The 'hedonic treadmill' phenomenon shows that eventually we become inured to the things that once gave us so much pleasure. As our finances rise our tastes rise as well and can, if unchecked, easily lead us toward happiness-depleting debt. Part of averting that cycle is awareness. To that end, the book includes a "How To Buy Happiness" handbook that asks the reader to do a deep analysis of their relationship with money based on the principles in the book.

Vanderkam strikes all the right notes in this reasoned consideration of how we spend. Her sense of experimentation and curiosity make this an enjoyable and thought-provoking read.

Deidre Woollard

Deidre Woollard has been writing both fiction and nonfiction for years. She has a Master of Fine Arts from Spalding University and her short fiction has been published in literary magazines and anthologies. She served as the lead editor on for six years writing about real estate, auctions, jewelry and luxury goods....(Read More)

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