Balancing the books

money I’ve been puzzling over a new survey today. Produced by American economists Daniel Sacks, Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, it links emotional well-being with wealth, proving – apparently – that the richer you are the happier you are.

On one level that has to be true – if you can’t afford to eat, shelter your family or keep up with the Joneses in the most basic way, then it’s very difficult to find the time, energy and wherewithal to pursue happiness.

But for the romantics among us, the thought of a direct link between cold hard cash and happiness goes a little against the grain. We’ve been brought up on fairy stories and pop songs that all preach the triumph of love over money. And of course, money can’t buy you love but, in the absence of fairy godmothers, it can pay for the cab to take you to the party and buy you the dress that bags you the prince. After that, though, you’re on your own.

It’s not money itself that makes us happy, but what money can protect us from that stops us feeling miserable. Of course we can all cite poor little rich girls and boys who end up hooked on drugs, drink or spending by having access to too much too soon, but being poor doesn’t protect you from addiction. There are far, far more penniless addicts than there are rich ones. And on balance, I’d rather be in the exclusive Priory having rehab than on the pavement.

But whatever happened to growing up poor but happy, like our grandparents did – or said they did? We’ve all heard the stories about growing up in houses with no central heating or mobile phones. But the common factor in most of those stories is that the children didn’t realise they were “poor” because all their friends and neighbours were in the same boat. It would only have taken one interloper flashing a shiny new Chopper bike to upset the home-made go-kart. And those memories are coloured by nostalgia, age and the security of knowing that things did indeed get better.

For almost all of us a bit more money in the pot brings more comfort and a bit less worry. I’m much happier this year than I was last because work has picked up and I’ve been able to afford to go on my teaching course. This time last year it wouldn’t have been an option.

So, on some level, money must increase happiness mustn’t it? At the very least it buys you the freedom of choice. It’s very difficult to opt out of the evil money-grabbing rat race and go and live in a croft to grow your own vegetables if you’re in debt up to your eyeballs.  Remember The Good Life? Tom and Barbara Good could only afford to dig up the lawn once Tom had turned 40 and paid off the mortgage. Poor old Jerry next door was still paying for Margo’s Fortnum’s habit and was in thrall to Sir forever.

But does the ratio between money and happiness carry on forever? Won’t there come a time when you reach saturation point and money ceases to make any material or emotional difference to our lives and has no further influence on our happiness? Or was Wallis Simpson right? Can you really never be too rich or too thin?

I’d love to find out. Do you think those economists would let me be the guinea pig in their next controlled experiment? “How’s she doing Betsey?” “Sorry Justin. She’s still not smiling – give her another yacht.”

Let me know if money makes you happy.

One Response to Balancing the books

  1. Fiona says:

    in this economic climate money is an issue for us all, however I do not subscibe that money is the route to happiness.
    although my partner and I are both self employed we really do struggle to keep afloat. we do not have extravagent luxuries and fancy holidays – not been on holiday now in the last four years. however we are relatively happy and our son although not getting everything he wants and all the latest goodies, appears to be content with what he has.this I appreciate is very unusual for a 11 year old.
    what really galls me is those rate their happieness with regards to the extravagent possessions they purchase and the luxurious holidays that they go on while ignoring their every day bills and debts.
    I am a childcare provider and am currently seeking payment from a single mum for her childcare fees. this parent has been abroad on holiday on four ocassions in the last 12 months regularly has beauty treatments and is reciving childcare tax credits however owes me a four figure sum for childcare that she has made no attempt to pay for. the social work department have said that I cannot suspend her child’s placement as the child is on the at risk register and this would then put the child in a vulnerable position. ( the only meals that the child recieves are when she is on our care!)
    this woman recieves housing benefit, carers allowance Disability living allowance community tax benefit incapacity benfit childcare tax credit working tax credit child benefit. though these benefits she is recieveing over £1000 per month more than my partner and I recieve each month and she stil has debts raising each and every week. ( should add here that there is no medical reason as to why disability or carers benefits have been applied – I was informed this by the social worker in charge of the case.)
    I could happly living on the benefits she is recieving and would have the ability to give my son some more of the things he would like in life.
    sorry rant over. I am just really frustrated and needed to sound off.
    if anyone has advioce on how to reclaim outstanding debts that would be of great help.

Leave a Reply

Please login or register to leave a comment.

Please wait while we process your request.

Do not refresh or close your window at any time.