A most important decision

Prioritizing your relationships, particularly your choice of spouse, can lead to a wealth of happiness. If you have this form of happiness, you will be rich indeed.

A most important decision by Nancy Knowlton

A few years ago our family took a vacation together in Italy. Dave had a conference to attend in Florence, and it was convenient to tie in that event with a family gathering. One of my sisters and her husband brought their teenaged sons with them. Dave and I were eager to spend some time with the boys, so we took them on a walk through the Cinque Terre, five historic villages on the west coast of Italy.

Walking and talking

A walk is a great opportunity for conversation, and we certainly took good advantage of the time to get to know our nephews better. One question that provoked a good level of discussion was this – “What is the most important decision that you will make in your life?” You can imagine the usual answers – the career that they would pursue, the university that they would attend and more. I then asked them if they had thought about a spouse – wouldn’t that be the most important decision that they might make?

This proposition sparked a spirited level of discussion. They hadn’t thought about this at all, being teenaged boys. We talked about personal things, observations of their parents’ marriage, how they felt in their family, etc. Bit by bit they formed some conclusions and were actually pretty forthcoming about their thoughts. I know that this discussion resonated with them, because they have mentioned it several times since we spent that time together.

The pursuit of happiness

I continue to believe that selecting a spouse is the most important decision that a person can make – far more important than the choice of a career, where to go to university, where to live, etc. The reason has everything to do with happiness and contentment, two things that are not considered often enough. Somehow they seem corny in a go-go, sophisticated world.

Children, work and money can complicate a relationship, but if I think deeply about these elements all of my feelings come back to my happiness, and that is inextricably linked to my key relationships starting with my spouse. Other relationships might prop me up for a while if my key relationship is rocky or a bust, but sooner or later I would have to address the relationship issue with my spouse. It’s not about the volume of relationships – it’s about the quality of the relationships.

At work we hear about things like work-life balance and employee engagement, but don’t they too really boil down to happiness – people being happy with themselves and their key relationships at home and at work?

I read a great quote (attribution unknown) that speaks volumes to me – “The real measure of your wealth is how much you’d be worth if you lost all your money.” What I would be worth is the sum of the relationships that I have, and on that basis I would be very rich indeed. I have chosen well in so many aspects of my life.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.