The Pursuit of Happiness Isn’t For Sale

“Love people and use things. Cos the opposite never works” – Joshua Fields Millburn, The Minimalists

 

I’ve been searching for a fulfilling career path from my first day working as an accountant. I knew through University that this wasn’t going to be for me, but for some reason, I persisted with it. I also gave it a good 12 years professionally in five different organisations, but each time, the initial challenge of learning new processes and meeting new people would fade after six months and the mundane routine would set in.

I decided to pursue a career change – one that many advised me against. The health and fitness industry seemed a perfect fit and I was passionately immersed in it for 18 months. Until the lack of financial stability finally took its toll. So I went back to a career that I knew I had no passion for, yet, felt the need to return to so I could get some financial freedom back.

Money is an interesting concept – I can say with total confidence that it simply does not make you happy, but not having enough to sustain a life you want is a recipe for unhappiness too. So, where’s the line between living for a bank balance and living for a passion?

This question has been in my head for years and I’m not sure I have the answer yet. Through these 12 years working in accounting and finance-related jobs, I pretty much hated them all, but persisted with them for various reasons – lack of acceptable or viable options, money (or so I thought), lifestyle (or so I thought), it came easy to me and people told me I was good at it. I worked with people that enjoyed what they did, and good on them. I worked with people that admitted they just did it for the money, or for their family, or for the mortgage. I worked with people that hated what they did, but didn’t see a way out, so they just kept grinding away. I saw myself slipping into that latter group and it was a scary prospect. There’s few feelings that I’ve encountered in my time that scare me more than the feeling of being trapped.

My first career change almost came about by accident, but it taught me many lessons. I discovered that I had other talents and that I did have the confidence to get in front of large groups and lead others. It also started to highlight to me the true value of stuff. I’m using this non-descript word purposely – “stuff”. The more I earned in accounting jobs, it seemed the more I spent. And I can’t say I have much to show for that spending either. I just accumulated stuff, and got into substantial debt at the same time. Maybe I was constantly buying things to make me feel better about being in a profession I had no connection with, or maybe I just liked having things.

When the income was substantially reduced with my move to health and fitness work, my lifestyle had to adjust. I simply couldn’t afford the same luxuries and certainly didn’t have the means to pay the credit card debt either. But this wasn’t just a job – this was a privilege where I got to help people improve their fitness and their life, while having some fun at the same time. I can’t adequately describe the feeling of having someone approach you and tell you that you made a positive difference to their day, to their outlook on life. Sadly, as a society, we don’t reward these types of jobs with appropriate pay, and after 18 months in this uplifting world of group fitness, I had to make the brutal decision to go back to accounting. I just couldn’t pay my bills and I was too embarrassed to ask another person for some money. Surprisingly, it was really tough to get back into accounting after a break – apparently it’s frowned upon to step away from your career to see what else is out there. Your commitment to the cause is questioned and you need someone to give you a chance. What a load of bullshit! Someone did eventually give me that chance, but it’s ridiculous that it is this way.

I knew I wouldn’t last in accounting when I went back. Particularly my last role, which I won’t name here, where I was absolutely overpaid and underworked, was a time where things got really bleak. But I can see now that it was a blessing. It was what I needed to know again – that money truly is not the catalyst for happiness, and that this industry simply wasn’t for me. Most people I spoke to said to stick it out, take the cash and start studying in your spare time, then quit. But I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t continue taking that salary that I didn’t deserve, all while working in a job that I truly hated. So, I quit and took the chance of going back to study while working part-time at a gym again to help ends meet. I started a Writing and Publishing Masters and was absolutely loving it, before another job opportunity presented itself. This time, it wasn’t accounting, but my knowledge from those roles would come in handy. The part-time work was becoming a factor too, as my hours were inconsistent and budgeting for things was proving difficult. There were also other factors to taking this new opportunity, so I jumped in with both feet.

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When I’m absolutely honest with myself, I know that I will need to leave this role too. Simply, I’m most content when I am giving back, when I am contributing to society in a positive and meaningful way. I know this now, but putting it into action is proving to be the hurdle. When I was helping others improve their fitness and outlook on life, I was truly happy and satisfied with work. When I write, I am happy, as expressing myself in this form is a release. It doesn’t always carry the same notion of giving back, but it does allow me the opportunity to communicate thoughts such as these, which may give at least one other person the confidence to interrupt their status quo and seek what truly makes them shine. I’m probably a socialist and I am completely comfortable with that. I see no issue with wanting everyone to have equality in all forms and with helping those that haven’t had the same opportunities to succeed that I have. So it follows that I don’t believe in capitalism, and most things that it stands for. The pursuit of money does not bring the best out of people and it certainly doesn’t allocate it fairly.

This finally brings me to an inspiring documentary movie I recently watched on Netflix, Minimalism – “a documentary about the important things”. It speaks of everything I have discussed here, as well as detailing a movement of de-cluttering your life of worthless possessions and simply taking what you need. They explain that although we have more things at our disposal now than we could possibly have imagined (or ever needed), we are also suffering more unhappiness and depression. We think that adding more material possessions will make us happy – that latest phone, or the newest trend in fashion. Even that bigger house that we can’t afford, or don’t actually need. Yet, it traps people into a routine of Monday to Friday melancholy and programs them into thinking they’ll be OK once (or if) that pay rise comes in.

I know that some of you reading this are probably thinking I’m overstating the impact of putting up with a meaningless career, but if you’re truly happy with your career, or the job you just happen to be in right now, then this isn’t aimed at you. This is for people that used to think like I did while wasting away in a career path that I had no passion for. Don’t think that you have no choice, or that you’re trapped. You may need to alter a few things about your lifestyle, but if it means you can be passionate about something again, then it’s surely worth it. I’m still searching for that elusive career path that will make me happy with myself again – it’ll look something like a social or community-based organisation, a not-for-profit or even a health-oriented role. I’m lucky – I know I have options, and although most future paths for me will inevitably mean returning to study, I just know I have to do it. And by getting rid of all the unnecessary stuff around me, I’ll be freer to continue exploring my options, and the world around me.

The Favourite

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If you watch sport, chances are you have seen sports gambling promotions. You have probably also noticed that the people in these promotions are usually male and they are usually smiling and winning. Like most promotional material though, the reality of the situation is a little different.

The reality is that if you watch sport on television, you will not avoid sports betting marketing. The value of sports betting advertising quadrupled between 2010 and 2012 (Hing, N. (2014). Sports Betting and Advertising (AGRC Discussion Paper No. 4). Melbourne: Australian Gambling Research Centre). In 2012, 3,069 individual sports betting advertisements were relayed over all forms of media, excluding social media. This included 528 individual sports betting advertisements, which were collectively played over 20,000 times on free-to-air TV and more frequently on pay TV (Hing, N. 2014). It is getting more prolific each year – over ten weeks from 30 August to 7 November 2014, the six main wagering providers collectively spent $12 million, running a total of 13,000 advertisements. Sportsbet spent the most during this time (over $5.5 million), while Tom Waterhouse paid for the most expensive individual advertisement, which cost $461,000 and was screened on television 347 times (Sproston, K., Hanley, C., Brook, K. (ORC International), Hing, N., Gainsbury, S. (2015). Study on Marketing of Sports Betting and Racing. Melbourne: Gambling Research Australia).

What does all this advertising do? Sports betting is the only gambling form for which participation rates have increased during the last decade (Gainsbury et al., 2014). Approximately one in seven (13%) adult Australians now gambles on sport (Hing, Gainsbury et al., 2014). Half of all sports betting is now conducted online (Hing, N., 2014) due to the 24/7 access via mobile apps and betting websites, as well as mobile wagering vans located at some sporting events. Yes, just in case you missed the many opportunities to gamble on your way to the game, you can rely on the mobile wagering van sitting outside the ground – useful if you don’t have a smartphone or access to the Internet, where you will also find many opportunities to gamble. Live coverage is streamed on some mobile betting apps, further incentivising sports enthusiasts into using this readily available medium.

Many sporting events, teams and stadiums have entered into commercial marketing arrangements with corporate bookmakers. This is most prominent in the two largest Australian sports, the Australian Football League (AFL) and the National Rugby League (NRL). These sports attract about half of all sports betting in Australia, with a doubling of turnover expected within five years from $750 million to $1.5 billion on the NRL and from $900 million to $1.8 billion for the AFL (Hing, N., 2014). As the sporting bodies receive marketing and product fees based on betting revenues, there is no incentive for them to reduce betting activity in the foreseeable future.

Sport is now used as a marketing platform to deploy huge investments of money by sports betting operators to recruit and retain customers. Particular concerns are that this marketing can encourage consumers to consider gambling as a sport, and that young people are learning about gambling through sport programming and merchandising, which can normalise and legitimise gambling uptake at a young age (Hing, N., 2014).

The embedding of sports betting promotions into live and televised sports is possibly the most controversial aspect of their marketing strategies, as it is mostly unavoidable for the viewing audience – many of which are likely to be children and young adults. I recall sitting at football games at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) seeing live betting odds splashed across the big screens while being announced to the crowd as a bit of harmless fun to talk about and follow throughout the game. Any number of live score apps come with betting odds right there next to the score, just in case you hadn’t seen those odds elsewhere. Even tipping websites (yes, footy tipping is considered harmless fun even though it’s usually a competition with a monetary prize) have live betting odds prominently displayed as well, presumably to help with deciding who you’re going to tip to win. Less subtle examples are when Tom Waterhouse was employed as a “special comments” analyst by Channel Nine during live broadcasts of NRL games, only to spruik the odds available at his betting agency. Or the financial market type newsflash segment, usually performed by an attractive female to get the target young male audience’s attention. This still occurs on subscription TV, as they cross to whichever betting agency has paid enough to get the slot and promote all those last minute options you have before the game starts, or during the game too. They usually wrap up these segments with a brief mention to gamble responsibly, after they have just saturated the TV viewing experience with their marketing strategies (more on this aspect later).

This embedded advertising can be particularly powerful because very little can be avoided, other than not watching the broadcast at all, or not attending the event. It is also likely to evoke an emotional response, rather than a rational one (Milner et al., 2013). Promotions occur at critical points when audiences are at their most attentive (e.g., when points are scored). Fixed advertising signs are all over stadiums, and some team uniforms. An audit of four live AFL matches held at two major stadiums in 2011 showed promotion of nine wagering brands during an average of 59 marketing communications (Milner et al., 2013; Thomas, Lewis, Duong et al., 2012).

The proliferation of sports betting advertising did result in community concern, especially in relation to the exposure to children and young adults. Some of the concern centred around the potential to normalise gambling among young viewers and potentially grooming a new generation of problem gamblers (Hing, Vitartas, & Lamont, 2013, 2014; Hunt, 2013; Lamont et al., 2011; McMullan, 2011).

“This “gamblification” of sport may transfer images associated with sport to promote gambling as healthy, harmless fun that, like sport, relies primarily on skill (Hing, Vitartas, & Lamont, 2014; Lamont et al., 2011; McMullan, 2011). Sports betting is becoming culturally embedded among young males, who report that peer discussions now include betting odds and that they feel pressured to gamble to fit in with their peers (Thomas, Lewis, McLeod et al., 2012). These promotions also undermine responsible gambling messages targeting young men, who are also the most at-risk group for gambling problems (Delfabbro, 2012)”.

Some evidence is showing that the proliferation of sports betting advertising is also negatively affecting problem gamblers. The University of Sydney Gambling Treatment Clinic has found that “the proportion of clients with sports betting-related problems increased fourfold between 2006-07 and 2010-11, with sports-embedded promotions reported as contributing substantially to these clients’ problems and relapses” (University of Sydney Gambling Treatment Clinic, 2011).

The extent of community concern in relation to sports betting advertising led to three separate government inquiries during the period between 2011 and 2013. “Following community concerns raised in these inquiries, Australian government pressure led to amendments to broadcast advertising codes from August 2013 to stop in-match commentary and on-screen displays of betting odds. Other promotional practices continue, including live odds promotions before match commencement. Ironically, airing of the statutory message to “gamble responsibly” has decreased with curtailment of live odds messages” (Hing, Vitartas, & Lamont, 2014). This is where a large part of the issue lies. If you watch live sport, you simply cannot avoid sports gambling messages. Whether it’s the casual mention of favourites through commentary, or the market style betting update before a game commences, or the copious number of sports betting advertisements throughout each broadcast, you won’t be able to avoid a reminder that you can easily go and throw some money at the game you’re watching. Seemingly, the only way to avoid it is to not watch the broadcast at all, nor read a newspaper, nor check your favourite sporting app, nor go anywhere near a computer with an Internet connection. How likely is any of this if you like to watch sport either regularly, or even occasionally? There’s also concern that it took three government inquiries before the industry finally acted, and even then, they only went a very small way towards removing the constant signals they give sports followers to go and gamble. It shows they cannot be trusted to self-regulate and will only act when pressured to do so. To further highlight the lack of self-regulation in the industry, an audit of sports betting advertising conducted in 2014 found that “responsible gambling messages were not commonly seen in either the televised or live sports or racing events observed. They were not displayed in many advertisements included in the content analysis and there were generally problems with legibility whenever they were present” (ORC International), Hing, N., Gainsbury, S. (2015). Study on Marketing of Sports Betting and Racing. Melbourne: Gambling Research Australia).

It has been found that gambling advertising can have particularly negative impact on problem gamblers. They report gambling advertisements as being a greater stimulation to gamble, a larger influence on spending than intended, and an encouragement for them to think that they will win. They also report that these advertisements can remind them about gambling, trigger gambling urges and undermine attempts to moderate their gambling. Bonus offers for sports betting, such as money-back guarantees and “free” bets that require matching deposits appear to particularly increase Internet gambling among problem gamblers. While gambling advertising has to date not been found to motivate many people to commence gambling, it has been shown to increase gambling among existing gamblers (Hing, N. 2014).

As research into the impact of sports betting advertising is still relatively new and ongoing, lessons could be learned from the advertising of other potentially harmful products in sport. Research has indicated that exposure to alcohol, tobacco and junk food advertising contributes to their uptake and consumption, especially among adolescents (Hing, N. (2014). Sports Betting and Advertising (AGRC Discussion Paper No. 4). Melbourne: Australian Gambling Research Centre). In fact, tobacco advertising at sporting events in Australia was banned some years ago, even though this caused a great controversy with particular international events such as the Formula One Grand Prix. As research continues on the sports betting industry, it will be interesting to see if a similar ban on sports betting advertising at sports events and on sports broadcasts ever eventuates. Given the amount of money being made through royalties and commissions to sporting bodies, this move might not be very likely.

There is a need for updated research into the impact that sports betting marketing is having on the community, particularly problem gamblers and the target markets of these companies (predominately young males). The trends from existing research are not going in a favourable direction for anyone other than the sports betting companies and the sports bodies themselves and I am reasonably sure we don’t need to put any odds on where current trends are heading. If my viewing of sport is anything to go by, this issue has become much more problematic than it was three or four years ago.

The Social Experiment

I’m not the type that does New Year resolutions, but if I was going to focus on something for 2016, it would be to support social enterprise at every possible opportunity. If you don’t know much about what social enterprise even means, please read on.

There are a few definitions of social enterprise. Essentially, it is an organisation that exists to foster positive social impact (both human and environmental), as opposed to lining the pockets of its shareholders. Or, as Social Traders puts it:

“Social enterprises use the power of the market place to solve the most pressing societal problems. They are businesses that exist primarily to benefit the public and the community, rather than their shareholders and owners. Social enterprises are commercially viable businesses with a purpose of generating social impact”.

Generally, this means that a social enterprise will use the majority, or all of its profits to work towards a social cause and derive its income from trade, not from donations. It could also be set up to benefit an environmental, cultural or economic cause. There are various forms that this can take, and as I am discovering on an almost daily basis, there are a growing number of businesses that subscribe to this inspiring model.

My first exposure to the concept of social enterprise was from purchasing a humble muesli bar. This bar from a company based here in Melbourne called Thank You has started me on a journey of discovery. Not only do they make these delicious muesli bars (I like the cranberry & coconut variety pictured below), but they also sell bottled water, breakfast cereals, as well as hand and body care products. The best part of Thank You’s offering is that each purchase goes directly to impacting social change. For example, purchasing one pack of their cereal provides one week’s access to food aid for someone in need. Or, purchasing a bottle of their water provides access to safe drinking water to someone who doesn’t otherwise have this. Even better, they provide a tracking ID number on each package so you can go to their website and see the direct impact that your purchase is making. A local business working to make change on a global scale is definitely something I can get behind, especially when it’s as simple as buying a pack of cereal.

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Another local example of social enterprise is a cafe at Melbourne Central called Streat. It turns out that this cafe is only one part of their package, as they also run a catering company and a coffee roastery. What better way to get Melburnians’ attention than to serve great coffee? The Streat cafe works to stop youth homelessness and disadvantage. A simple yet critical mission. Not only do they have a loyalty program that provides a free coffee to someone experiencing homelessness, instead of you receiving your tenth coffee free, they also provide employment and training opportunities to youth in need of a helping hand. This (from their website) sums it up:

“We’re determined that our young people should gain the transferable employability skills that will stand them in good stead in any industry…but of even greater importance to us, is that our young people learn how deeply we care for them, and how much they really matter to us. We want them to know that not just our cafe doors – but also our hearts – will forever remain open to them, no matter what”.

That might sound a little over the top, but it goes to the heart of what social enterprise is all about (pun intended). It really is about community benefit by helping those that need it and those that do not have what we are lucky enough to have (and let’s face it, most of us are just so incredibly lucky in this country). Sounds like a simple way to make a difference too – simply change some of your current purchasing methods and your money will go to assisting positive social change, as opposed to even greater profits to the many multinational organisations in business (who incidentally don’t appear to be paying their fair share of tax either, but that’s another story).

As The Guardian reported back in July, the social enterprise cafe model is growing strongly in Australia, particularly here in Melbourne. There are currently 13 cafes, with more in the pipeline. There’s the well known Feast of Merit in Richmond, run by YGAP, where profits fund youth education and youth leadership projects in Australia and in parts of Asia and Africa. There’s the Fitzroy cafe, Charcoal Lane, that provides hospitality training for Indigenous students, as well as the Social Studio in Collingwood, which offers disadvantaged youth opportunities to work (as Streat does). One particular cafe in Richmond also extends their support to newly arrived refugees (who have been granted asylum, as those on temporary visas are forbidden to work). Long Street Coffee in Richmond has partnered with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre to offer employment opportunities to our new members of the community, as they struggle to find that initial chance to get into the workforce and make their contribution. What a novel concept – actually trying to help refugees, rather than imprison or dehumanise them.

These all appear to be very straight forward ways of making a positive impact to someone who could use some help. As the festive season approaches, it is often a time of reflection of the year gone by and what we aspire to be in the new year. It seems a perfect time to consider how a small change for you might just make a significant change for someone in need.

Seasons Greetings and thanks for reading. I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and look forward to positive change in 2016. Peace.

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