Who Says Money Doesn't buy Happiness?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

If you missed my column on Saturday you can read it on the Geelong Advertisers page.

My original was a lot longer but due to space restrictions I had to cut a fair bit out so here is the full version. Would love to hear what you think, if you agree or disagree.

The age old argument continues to pop up in conversations everywhere but I am going out on a limb here and am going to say that yes it does indeed come close to buying happiness. I do however think it needs to be teamed up with some other important factors.

I have sat on both sides of the fence a few times, as a teenager when my parents marriage dissolved and again as an adult when my marriage did the same thing. Of course I had my heady student days of eating 2 minute noodles and travelling the world sleeping on rooftops of hostels to save a few dollars but that doesn’t count.

Being poor is not fun, it can be very debilitating, confidence can be lost and it can be extremely hard to put on your happy face for the world to see. Lying awake at night wondering how you are going to pay the bills can be paralyzing. Even if you have the love of your life lying next to you the lack of money can start to do it’s damage. Many relationships have ended due to economical issues. To me that debunks the theory that love is all you need to be truly happy. In fact just today someone was referring to a couple that were divorcing and had a lot of money and out it came “see money doesn’t buy happiness” I am tipping that marriage would have broken up regardless of how much or how little money they had. I can categorically tell you that being poor on top of a marriage breakdown is no fun.

If life has not turned out the way you had hoped and you find yourself in your 40’s single and childless, can you imagine also having no money on top of it? I have a few school friends who have found themselves in the unmarried/childless life but luckily they have well paying jobs and travel the world on their vacations and live life to the fullest. They can address their health issues and look good at the same time. Knowing your life didn’t turn out as planned but being able to sleep at night because you can pay the bills, dress nicely, catch up with friends for dinners and take fabulous vacations sure does take the edge of.

I feel very sad for people who got stuck somehow in the cycle of poverty, they can’t afford to dress well to even turn up to a job interview, they cant afford a computer in their home to be able to look for jobs, better educate themselves or to simply connect with the world out there and feel less lonely. The rest of us have multiple screens and take it for granted.

2 years ago I volunteered for the Salvos on Christmas Day in Corio and I met a man, in his 40’s who was so crazy excited because a friend had given him his old mobile phone as a present AND it had $20 credit on it. He was on cloud 9 and trying to decide who to call first. That possession alone made him happy and also made him feel important.

Don’t even get me started on health. They say bad teeth are the first sign of poverty and it is true. Tooth pain is excruciating and not covered under Medicare so can you imagine just having to live with the pain because its also highly likely you cant afford the pain killers.

There is a new study that has been done by University of Michigan economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfer. They have examined data from more than 150 countries from sources including the World Bank and the Gallup World Poll. The husband-and-wife team found that the more money people have the happier they are. In fact, the study found zero unhappy millionaires. No surprise there.

Money, while it doesn’t always buy happiness, is an important means to achieving higher living standards and I am sure that in turn makes us happier.

Nobel prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman has also received lots of attention with research that says money makes us happier. He does however say that beyond about $75,000 in annual income – enough to fund a moderately comfortable lifestyle – more money does not make people much happier, he said.

For me personally, a little extra income in my life has had a dramatic change on my happiness levels. I want to be clear that it is not just the money but how I spend my money. Here are my top 5 happiness tips.

1. Planning a holiday is right up there in increasing my endorphins. Even if it’s a few years out, knowing it is coming keeps me going. I would way rather spend my hard earned money on experiences over possessions. That has been my creed in life since my teens. The memories of experiences last a life time, a brand new shiny car lasts but a moment. I have never once hard my kids or grown ups say “remember the day I got my new computer, I felt so ______” but I sure do hear a lot of “remember that holiday we went on 1/5/10/20 years ago and how amazing it was”

2. Less television and commuting makes me a happier girl. Those two are known to be the least happy use of our time. I watch very little and am selective in what I choose to subject myself to. The news just makes me miserable. I choose to work from home to avoid the ugly commute.

3. Spending quality time with my family and friends, taking a walk on the beach, having a picnic, throwing a BBQ, seeing a movie, sharing great food.

4. Volunteering to help others makes a lot of people happier. There is a great satisfaction in helping others and I am instilling this in my children.

5. Being grateful for what I do have and not concentrating on what I don’t have. They say people who keep a gratitude journal and write in it everyday are much happier people.

You can find my column in the GT on the 3rd Saturday of every month.

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