In response to the question “how much money does it take to make someone really happy?” the late American billionaire John Rockefeller is alleged to have relied, “just a little bit more”. There are testimonies from lottery winners who describe their journey to despair as a result of their sudden riches. Frankly, most of us wouldn’t mind trying it out for ourselves. There must be plenty of rich people who rather enjoy being rich!
But then how much does it take to be rich? According to John McDonnell the Labour Shadow Chancellor, it’s about £70,000 plus per annum. This group would be targeted by a Labour Government to pay extra taxes for the common good. But a recent survey showed that only about 5% of the population are in this bracket. And many of them don’t feel rich. In a 2011 Joseph Rowntree Foundation study on class, regardless of their actual earnings, people tend to think their earnings are somewhere in the middle of the income distribution.
The flip side of wealth and happiness is debt and misery. Most of us in debt find the anxiety, stress and depression can become powerful states of mind. Once sorted through a repayment plan or some debt solution, most comment on a peace of mind – “finally I can sleep at night without a constant, nagging worry”. Debt has that way of invading all areas of life – health, relationships as well as the practical implications of juggling ever-dwindling funds.
So being in debt is no fun at all – but does being wealthy automatically mean life takes on a fun-filled life of constant joy and fulfilment? Possibly not. The constant striving for more, the reality that there may be more to life than endless possessions, or the creeping onset of time that reminds us that ultimately we can’t take it with us. Research is mixed – some studies show that after reaching a certain basic level of income, increases in income don’t correlate to increase in happiness (1), whilst others suggest in general, the more we have the happier we are (2). As the actor Bo Derek put it, “whoever said that money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping.”
Perhaps a key word is contentment. We may be relatively well off or relatively not – but contentment with our lot may well provide a greater sense of well-being and happiness than a bulging bank account. Though as I say, many of us wouldn’t mind putting it to the test!
(1) Paper by Daniel Kahneman “High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being”
(2) Office for National statistics “Relationship between Wealth, Income and Personal Well-being”