herald

Monday 23 October 2017

If you've got the basics, you don't need more cash

As we build up to the Budget with trepidation, here's an inconvenient truth: more money doesn't necessarily mean more happiness and less money doesn't necessarily mean less happiness.

That statement didn't 'feel' right during the boom and it doesn't 'feel' right during the bust -- yet time and time again, research has debunked the myth that more money equals more happiness.

We are all going around at the moment as though we are about to enter some sort of long, bleak nuclear winter.

But for those who are able to support their families, it doesn't have to be like that.

Of course, annoying and unfair things will happen, we will be angry and we may even march through the streets in the December rain but sooner or later we are going to have to get down to the business of living.

What the research shows is that if you are too poor to provide the basics for yourself and your family, then more money will, indeed, make you happier.

But once you can afford the basics, the link between money and happiness begins to dissolve.



CRECHE

Even people who win lotteries tend to be about as happy within a couple of years as they were the day before they won.

How can that possibly be? What happens is that a higher level of income makes us feel better for a while but then we get used to it and return to our earlier levels of wellbeing.

Psychologically, this is a process called habituation in which we get less and less stimulation from what is familiar.

So when we stop tormenting ourselves about the falls in our income, we may find that life will not be worse at all.

And here's a startling piece of research: back in 2006 the Bureau of Labour Statistics in the United States measured the happiness levels of people on various incomes.

What they found was that those who earned $100,000 a year or more suffered higher levels of stress and tension than those who earned less than $20,000 a year. The reason seems to be that the high-fliers spend a lot of time dashing around from the creche to the nursery to the workplace to the supermarket, back to the creche again and so on. People on lower incomes have more leisure and more time to spend with their families -- and older research tells us that leisure activities (as simple as meeting friends for a chat) boost happiness.

I said at the start of this article that these facts are "inconvenient".

During the boom, nobody wanted to be told that more money didn't bring more happiness although I'm one 100pc certain that most of us knew that in our hearts.

And now, in the recession, angry and bewildered people still don't want to hear that money doesn't bring happiness.

But this shouldn't be an inconvenient fact at all. You may not be able to jet off to Manhattan to get a few things for Christmas, you may not be able to buy an apartment for your children when they go to university, you may not be able to take three foreign holidays a year -- but there will still be treats and good times and laughter if you're prepared to let them into your life.

The key is to be able to provide the basics for yourself and your family.



SMILES

That's what we need to focus on now.

Finally, I offer you one undeniably comforting thought: if more money doesn't bring more happiness then those greedy people who demand and get million-euro salaries and million-euro bonuses are no happier than you and me.

Now that's something to smile about.

Padraig O'Morain is accredited as a counsellor by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

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