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Julie Baumgardner

A few months ago, I asked people on Facebook what brought them happiness. More than 200 people responded and, as you can imagine, the list was varied. People said things like family, friends, being in nature, their faith, pets and their spouse made them happy.

I actually went back to look at the list again, and here's what I found interesting: Nobody listed money as something that brings them happiness, yet it is the thing many devote their lives to getting more of in the pursuit of happiness.

During a recent visit to Chattanooga, Gary Kunath, author of "Life Don't Miss It. I Almost Did," shared his story of working in corporate America and buying into the idea that the more money you make, the happier you will be. The only problem was, he wasn't happy and he was working long hours away from his family. Through a series of events, Gary did some tough soul-searching and made the decision to leave his corporate job and do something different.

He learned that the quest for net worth at the cost of life worth is not a good trade-off.

"A truly rich person is not the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least. The only reason to focus on net worth is to underwrite life worth," said Kunath. "I promise you that in the end no one will care what kind of car you drove when you were 35 or the square footage of the largest home you ever owned. What will count and what does matter is what people remember about you."

While heredity and other things affect happiness levels to a certain point, studies indicate that there are things people can do to impact their happiness levels.

Kunath shared these keys to happiness:

* Money doesn't make you rich. How you think about money really sets the tone for your priorities in life. Do you value things, or experiences with others? Do you spend your money impulsively, or are you thoughtful about expenditures?

* Help other people with no expectation of anything in return. Kunath shared a story about a college intern for a baseball team who noticed a little boy at one of their events sitting on a bench crying his eyes out. The intern went over to see if he could help and showed great kindness to the little boy. Three months after his internship ended, he received a phone call from an executive with the baseball team requesting his presence at a meeting. When the young man showed up, he learned that the little boy had lost his mom earlier that year and the kind gesture of the intern was not lost on the father of the little boy who happened to be working on a corporate sponsorship with the team. The father requested that the intern be given 100 percent of the commission from that deal.

* Practice the art of savoring. In a world where people are distracted and moving at a very fast pace, Kunath suggests that happiness comes from savoring moments versus being focused on the next thing. He shared that the three greatest gifts you can give your family are time (small things matter), memories and traditions.

* Perspective is powerful. Don't major on the minors. Irritating things happen to people all the time, such as being cut off in traffic, being lied to by a co-worker or being taken advantage of. Kunath encourages people to consider how they will allow these things to impact their happiness quotient. The truth is, these incidents are moments in time and will only rob you of your joy and happiness if you allow them to.

* Life is fun, and fun is good. Kunath quoted Dr. Gerald Jampolsky, saying, "We can only be happy now, and there will never be a time when it is not now." In other words, fun matters. Don't take yourself too seriously. You don't have to have a lot of money to have fun. It enhances relationships, decreases stress and creates great memories.

* Refine your relationships, or as Kunath puts it, thin the herd. It matters who you surround yourself with as you go through life. Kunath suggests that we take a look at who we have allowed in our inner circle. If there are people who are sucking the life right out of you or who are constant takers, some pruning might be in order. It isn't that those people shouldn't be in our lives at all; they just should not be the people we are spending most of our time with.

So, if you've been looking for happiness in all the wrong places, try to utilize these keys in your life. Remember unconditional love, making a difference for someone else, giving without any expectation of getting anything in return, appreciating the beauty of family and true friends, slowing down and savoring life, and having fun are important components of happy experiences for yourself and the ones you care about.

Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at julieb@firstthings.org.

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