I’d had enough. It was October 2017, and I’d been wondering what the point of my job was for far too long, and while I’m sure there was something meaningful somewhere and to someone in what I was doing day-to-day, it had certainly lost meaning for me. For all the good that writing another academic research paper would do, I thought I might as well be cycling to Bhutan.

The idea of cycling to this small country nestled in the Himalayan foothills is one I’d had for many years. Bhutan is famous for deciding to value its population’s happiness and well-being over economic growth. As an academic researcher focused on understanding happiness and well-being, the journey looked to me to be something of a pilgrimage.

Before I quit, I’d spent more than ten years at different universities, trying to understand what the most important contributors were to well-being. But what I found was that I was burnt out. Given the nature of my research, the irony of this was not lost on me. I needed to do something different. I wanted to travel; to explore and understand happiness through a non-academic lens. But I wanted to connect the research I’d been doing over the years with what was happening, or indeed not happening, in the world.

Taktshang Goemba, Tiger nest monastery, in Bhutan. Kai19/Shutterstock

Purpose and meaning

When I began my research, I was motivated by the importance of the subject. Most people I knew wanted to be happy and so, I thought, my research might help people to do that. I did what academics are incentivised to do: publish in the best peer-reviewed journals (indexed by academic readership and citation counts), as well as bring in research funds. I also did things such as engage with people outside of academia that might not ordinarily read my research – the public, the media, governments, policymakers – things I wasn’t always incentivised to do, but nevertheless did because they contributed to a personal sense of purpose and meaning.

When it comes to living happy and fulfilled lives, we humans need meaning, we need purpose. People who feel there is a deeper purpose and meaning in what they are doing in their day-to-day lives tend to be happier, healthier, and more satisfied. Research shows, for example, that a life orientated towards meaning brings greater satisfaction than a life oriented toward hedonic pleasure. Those that have a strong sense of purpose in life live longer, and having a strong sense of purpose may be just as good for your health as engaging in regular exercise. Some would even conceive that purpose is, by definition, a key aspect of happiness itself.

Work is an important source of purpose and meaning for many people. When people get made redundant or become unemployed, much of the loss in well-being they experience is often due to the loss of purpose and meaning, rather than the loss of income. Even if there is no deeper personal purpose and meaning in the actual work itself then there is much to value in our daily social interactions and the structure that work provides us, although they are easily overlooked.

It is purpose and meaning that helps people get up each day and it doesn’t necessarily have to be specifically about work. Purpose and meaning can take many different forms and is deeply personal. It might be looking after family, following a hobby, passion, or faith. Purpose and meaning is also an important source of resilience, helping people get through the difficulty and challenges that are an inevitable part of life.

Having purpose and meaning are an important component of being happy. Evgeniia Freeman / Shutterestock

The importance of purpose and meaning is well recognised. In the UK, for example, one of the four questions that the government’s Office for National Statistics asks in its Well-Being Survey is: “Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?” To which people are asked to respond on a scale from zero “not at all” to ten, “completely”. In the UK the mean score to this question is about 7.8, suggesting people feel their lives are relatively worthwhile. However, there is variation around this mean. Around 15% of the population answer a score of six or less on this question and this level has been relatively stable.

Walking the talk, beitic

It has always felt important to me to apply my research findings to my own life. My research consistently showed that once basic needs are met, having more money is only weakly related to happiness and well-being, relative to other things such as relationships, health (mental and physical), and our personality characteristics. Taking this on board, I have decided not to take better paying jobs or strive for promotion (one of my first ever published papers demonstrated that promotion can have detrimental effects on one’s mental health) for the sake of it. Instead, I tried to create a life where I had more space to focus on those aspects of life I knew to be the most important for well-being.

Another important contributor to our well-being is something psychologists term authenticity. Authenticity reflects our tendency to live in line with our beliefs and values rather the demands of others, of society. So in following what I believed to be true from the research I and others were doing I was doubly rewarded; I was happier.

Nonetheless, the longer I spent in academia the more I began to question the wider relevance of my research. I began to realise that a lot of debates around happiness could sometimes be shockingly misleading such as the extent that money can buy happiness – which too often gets overstated. Gazing out beyond the academic world, I saw a society that seems to act, whether consciously or not, as if the most important thing is to keep the economy perpetually growing, regardless of the ill effects that endless consumption has on the planet and people’s mental health.

I felt despondent. What was the point in writing another academic paper? Perhaps, I thought, I ought to be doing something a bit different. Not only to rediscover meaning and purpose, but to continue striving for an authentic existence and, through that, perhaps a little more happiness too. It was then that I finally decided that it was time to leave my full-time job at the university and to start my cycling odyssey to Bhutan.

A kingdom of happiness

We might not hear about them very often, but there are actually many places in the world where economic growth is not so overtly favoured above other things. It might be just a few people who have decided to live together and put their well-being above economic gain; there are small communities, towns and cities already doing this. But in the case of an entire country – Bhutan – the stated central aim of government is to increase happiness and well-being.

In 1972, the fourth king of Bhutan, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, first expressed the idea in an interview. He said: “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product.” Initially, Gross National Happiness was a concept rooted in the country’s spiritual traditions, and government policies would be evaluated based on their supposed influence on well-being rather than its economic effect.

Back in 1972, however, there was little in the way of reliable metrics to compute the influence of a policy on well-being. So the idea of increasing happiness remained more of a philosophical concept. Nevertheless, the happiness concept became embedded in the policy-making process. Some of the decisions that arose from this approach included a ban on television (up until 1999), making tobacco illegal, and restricting tourism to preserve the country’s culture.

Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the fourth King of Bhutan (right) and the current king, his son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (left). Gelay Jamtsho / flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

The Bhutanese have since developed a Gross National Happiness Index to measure the country’s collective level of well-being – this has been the government’s goal since its constitution was enacted in 2008. The index has direct links to policy making and it is meant to provide incentives for the government, non-governmental organisations, and businesses to operate in ways that increase the happiness index. For example, environmental protection is enshrined in its constitution, which puts a limit on profitable industries such as logging.

Yet Bhutan is by no means the happiest place on Earth, despite its focus on happiness. Finland topped the UN’s 2018 World Happiness Report and Bhutan came in at 97 out of 156 countries. A number of factors are at play here, but Bhutan has been criticised for having a top-down focus on what constitutes happiness. It also suffers from considerable poverty, human rights abuses and many other issues that numerous countries face.

Nevertheless, the case of Bhutan continues to inspire conversations as to what should be the purpose of society and how countries can measure success. Bhutan also illustrates what might just be possible if there were the political will.

The journey, not the destination

Against this backdrop, I set off from the UK in October 2017 with the barest of essentials packed onto a bicycle and my route, you might say, has been circuitous. As I write I am in Canada, and it was important for me to travel across South and North America, as I wanted to pass through other places that, much like Bhutan, are exploring new ways of living and where the economy does not necessarily dominate political and social life.

In Costa Rica, for example, there’s a real emphasis on “pura vida” or the pure life. Citizens live long and happy lives (comparable to that of financially rich countries) on levels of income that are much lower. I met many a living example of what I’d seen in the research – happiness that comes from relationships, good health, and being in connection with ourselves and nature. Once basic needs are met, money adds little to well-being and I met many people with not very much; but enough to be able to help me as I passed through their village or town on my bicycle.

I also wanted to visit Canada, which has an exemplary national index of well-being that was developed in conjunction with citizens. It was developed as a bottom-up process with clear and direct links to policy. From a research perspective we know that autonomy and having a voice is important for well-being and I have learnt from personal experience how important it is to feel heard.

And, of course, there were many places in between that I wanted to visit that felt important to help me understand happiness more deeply: communities intent on happiness, natural wonders of the world, and various cities with something to contribute.

I’ve flown some of the way (across oceans) but cycled most of it in a bid to make the journey authentic and purposeful. Not only did I think cycling would be good for my own well-being (physical and mental) but because it is a form of travel that has minimal ecological impact and therefore would not harm the well-being of those around me. Plus, my experiences travelling on a bicycle before I began this journey showed me that it is a fantastic way to meet people. It is a fairly unusual form of travel in some parts of the world and it draws interest and builds connections.

Life on a bike. Christopher Boyce, CC BY-ND

People can often make a place. I knew that the people I met would form an important part of my trip and I wanted to create long lasting connections, which are of course an important component of a happy life. These connections have come through sharing experiences of what it means to be happy – sharing my own research and personal experiences of happiness and also being willing to hear about the experiences of others, from the people I have met in the street and the plazas to the people making policy decisions.

There are many people who are interested in implementing programmes and happiness policies into their own lives and the lives of others as a means to genuinely promote happiness and well-being in the area where they live.

When I spoke with people involved in policy decisions in Costa Rica, for example, we discussed the country’s involvement in the Wellbeing Economy Alliance. This is an organisation that resembles the G7 group of countries, but rather than a focus on the size of the economy, these countries – including Costa Rica, Scotland, New Zealand and Slovenia, among others – aim to promote well-being.

Overcoming challenges

My journey has been undeniably amazing on a personal level. Each day can bring something different, unexpected, challenging, and that demands a lot psychologically. Suddenly I might find myself in the home of a person I met in a plaza sharing food with their family. The next day I could find myself sitting in my tent alone but in the company of a beautiful night sky. There have been some truly special moments and, through these, I have often felt happy and learnt many interesting things about myself. For example, that I am much more than just an academic, and that sometimes what we perceive ourselves to be can limit what we can be.

Yet it has not been easy, and has definitely not been a holiday. My journey has involved a substantial amount of physical effort and at times deep challenge. About two months into my trip I got bitten by a street dog in a tiny village in Peru. The need to deal with the physical effects aside (treating the wound, getting to a hospital, getting vaccinations), the experience really affected me psychologically.

The journey’s not always been easy. Christopher Boyce, CC BY-ND

I wanted to come home. I was struggling to find the emotional strength I needed to get through. I felt alone. But I persevered and I put my ability to do so down to eventually finding the support I needed (both locally and from back home), as well as having that clear sense of purpose.

I’m glad I persevered with the journey as all the other experiences I’ve since that incident and the people I have met have been enormously enriching and given me a greater feeling of wholeness. Plus, an important part of happiness is dealing with adversity and building resilience for when difficult things happen, as they inevitably do.

Now, I’m in Canada and, in truth, I’m surprised I’ve made it this far. I often wonder whether I’ll ever actually make it to Bhutan; there are many more mountains to climb and seas to cross. Lately, I’ve been having a difficult time on the road – it’s been a year and I deeply miss the surroundings of home, friends and family.

Maybe I don’t actually need to go all the way to Bhutan. Maybe what I’ve done is enough. Either way, I can rest assured that happiness is found in the journey – not the destination.

– Christopher Boyce, University of Stirling

Originally at https://theconversation.com/why-i-quit-my-day-job-researching-happiness-and-started-cycling-to-bhutan-105531

A decade ago, we started a new annual tradition: sitting down to write a letter about our work in philanthropy. We got the idea from our friend Warren Buffett, who’s been writing brilliant reports to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway for more than half a century.

This year we’re marking our 10th letter by answering 10 tough questions about our work that people often ask us. Here is one of them. You can read the rest at gatesletter.com.

Why are you really giving your money away—what’s in it for you?

Bill: It’s not because we think about how we’ll be remembered. We would be delighted if someday diseases like polio and malaria are a distant memory, and the fact that we worked on them is too.

There are two reasons to do something like this. One is that it’s meaningful work. Even before we got married, we talked about how we would eventually spend a lot of time on philanthropy. We think that’s a basic responsibility of anyone with a lot of money. Once you’ve taken care of yourself and your children, the best use of extra wealth is to give it back to society.

The other reason is that we have fun doing it. Both of us love digging into the science behind our work. At Microsoft, I got deep into computer science. At the foundation, it’s computer science plus biology, chemistry, agronomy, and more. I’ll spend hours talking to a crop researcher or an HIV expert, and then I’ll go home, dying to tell Melinda what I’ve learned.

It’s rare to have a job where you get to have both a big impact and a lot of fun. I had it with Microsoft, and I have it with the foundation. I can’t imagine a better way to spend the bulk of my time.

Melinda: We both come from families that believed in leaving the world better than you found it. My parents made sure my siblings and I took the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church to heart. Bill’s mom was known, and his dad still is known, for showing up to advocate for a dizzying number of important causes and support more local organizations than you can count.

When we got to know Warren Buffett, we discovered that he was steeped in those same values, even though he grew up in a different place and at a different time. When Warren entrusted us with giving away a large portion of his wealth, we redoubled our efforts to live up to the values we share.

Of course, these values are not unique to the three of us. Millions of people give back by volunteering their time and donating money to help others. We are, however, in the more unusual position of having a lot of money to donate. Our goal is to do what our parents taught us and do our part to make the world better.

Bill and I have been doing this work, more or less full-time, for 17 years. That’s the majority of our marriage. It’s almost the entirety of our children’s lives. By now the foundation’s work has become inseparable from who we are. We do the work because it’s our life.

We’ve tried to pass on values to our children by talking with them about the foundation’s work, and, as they’ve gotten older, taking them with us on trips so they can see it for themselves. We’ve connected to each other through thousands of daily debriefs on learning sessions, site visits, and strategy meetings. Where we go, who we spend our time with, what we read and watch and listen to—these decisions are made through the prism of our work at the foundation (when we’re not watching The Crown).

Maybe 20 years ago, we could have made a different choice about what to do with our wealth. But now it’s impossible to imagine. If we’d decided to live a different life then, we wouldn’t be us now. This is who we chose to be.

Read the rest of our Annual Letter and ask us your toughest question at gatesletter.com.

Written by

Bill Gates
Co-chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Originally at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-were-really-giving-our-money-away-bill-gates

Many life insurance companies have hopped onto the online term insurance bandwagon. Since this is the simplest form of insurance on offer and a direct comparison of premium is possible. Couple of insurers have even entered a slugfest on who offers the cheapest term insurance policy.

These insurance covers that offer a pre-set death benefit are cheaper than the regular term insurance plans purchased through insurance agents and brokers. The benefit of online term plans is that one does away with the insurance middlemen and thus saves up on the commission paid to the agent out of your premium paid. Online term plans help you save 1/3 to ½ the premium paid for offline plans.

But then is premium the only consideration to opt for a term insurance plan, where the heir of the insured would get the sum assured upon the death of the policyholder. It has been observed that the chances of claims being rejected are higher when the cost of life insurance isn’t commensurate with the actual risk involved. Policyholder declaration of health and existing conditions too are responsible for claim rejection.

Few other essential factors need to be considered. Here are five parameters that you should assess apart from premium to zero down on an online term insurance plan.

Maturity age offered: Insurance companies offer a maximum maturity age between 65-80 years of age. Higher the maturity age the better for you as higher the age more the chances of death and better the utilization of a term plan. LIC and SBI Life, which are public sector insurance companies, offer a 70 year maturity age, while HDFC Life offers a 65 year maturity age.

Higher policy term: Term insurance policy term used to be 25 years earlier. The scene is now changing. Insurers offer a term of 35-52 years as well. The higher the term, the better for you as you need not purchase a second term cover at higher age if you exhaust the term of the first one purchased early in life. HDFC Life, Bajaj Allianz, SBI Life have a term of 30 years. LIC, Reliance Life, Aviva Life and PNB Life provide a term of 35 years, while Tata AIA Life and India First offer a 40-year term.

Actual premium: The premium quoted online or through charts is just an indicative premium and your actual cost may escalate once your medical tests reveal your health condition. A smoker would have to cough up 25-30% more. So, find your actual premium before selecting options.

Claims rejection ratio: This is an important factor to be examined before taking the online term plan. An insurer may be offering the cheapest term plan, but if it rejects 40% of the claims then your money paid over the years may be down the drain.

Companies with strong financial background and reliable in terms of claim settlement should be looked at. As per IRDA, public sector life insurer has a claims ratio of 98.14%, while HDFC Life ranks third in terms of claims settlement by paying 94.01% of the claims received.

Keep an eye on the claims rejection ratio too which is indicative of the number of claims that have been declined by an insurer.

Ease of claim handling: Your heir should not be left running from pillar to post to make the insurance claim. Also, several insurers have a long list of pending claims. So, study the past record of the insurer before taking up the term plan. For instance, DLF Pramerica has a shocking 53.96% of its claims pending, while HDFC Life has only a mere 1.29% claims pending.

Caution:

To avoid claim rejection later follow these ground rules:

1) Provide correct details in the health declaration as hiding past history of diseases and essential health related information could lead to claim rejection.
2) Stop agent from filling wrong details or better still fill the form yourself.
3) Don’t opt for the single premium plan even though a discount is offered as thanks to the uncertainties of life you may or may not need to pay the premium for the whole term. The premium doesn’t increase each year.
4) Inform the nominee you have appointed about the term policy you have purchased.
5) Don’t fall for misselling offers of insurance agents that you will get back the entire amount you have invested, so the cost is zero. The money will be back upon death and the inflation cost as well as opportunity cost of money should be looked at from 15-20 years perspective.

By Khyati Dharams

Originally at http://m.economictimes.com/is-the-cheapest-term-insurance-the-best/investarticleshow/47232489.cms

%d bloggers like this: