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Psychological study on happiness can be applied to filing bankruptcy


A psychology professors at Maastricht University in the Netherlands published a study about what it takes to find true happiness. Or at least, the psychological make-up of happiness. As it turns out, yes, money does have something to do with our level of happiness. But so does uncertainty.

In a recent New York Times column on the professors' work by Daniel Gilbert, author of "Stumbling on Happiness," it was published that indeed, money can buy happiness. Although, not to the extent most people believe. It doesn't take private jets and multiple homes on palm-lined beaches for us to be content. It does take shelter and food, though, along with a sense of security. Not physical security really, but mental security, a sense of comfort.

In their studies on happiness, the psychologists found that people were less anxious about a bad thing happening to them (in this case, a healthy jolt of electricity) if they knew it was going to happen. The study involved telling some people that in a series of 20 shocks, three of them would be quite strong and would come at random times. The other group was told exactly when the stronger shocks would occur. It was the latter group that, according to heart rate and other physical monitoring, was less nervous about being electrocuted.

Let's apply this university study to your financial situation. When you are in debt, serious debt, the fear of the next emergency that will require money you don't have, the fear of the phone ringing with a collection agent on the other end or the fear of not knowing if you'll be able to pay your mortgage, becomes a major contributor to your unhappiness. After a while, that fear of not knowing what lies ahead turns a financial situation into an emotional one. And when we're distraught, our spending decisions can get even worse.

When you make the decision to file bankruptcy, you become the second group in the study. You know what lies ahead of you now. Sure, parts of the process may be uncomfortable at times, but for probably the first time in a long time, you can see through all the financial uncertainty. You can pick up the phone with hope that it's going to be a friend or family member. You will be able to ask questions to your bankruptcy attorney about your home and investments. Bankruptcy can provide you clarity when the clouds of debt have blocked your future.

Even though the study showed that yes, material things can create happiness, it also showed that we need a great deal more, too. When it comes to knowing something bad is going to occur, the study showed that we absorb the event and then move on. We are less apt to point fingers or hold on to bitterness or claim the victim. The same can be said for bankruptcy. Once you make the decision, you'll feel that weight lift. It will be tremendous.

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