The Tribune - Spectrum

, September 23, 2001
Lead Article

Money makes happiness grow
Money makes happiness grow --- Illustration by Gaurav Sood

The world respects success and the amount of money you have helps it gauge how successful you are. Society tends to respect those with demonstrable and exceptional money-minting abilities. Conversely, those without the moolah are largely confined to the sidelines, says Prerana Trehan.

OK let’s stop kidding ourselves. Forget what grandma said, more money would be really nice and hey, who minds a bigger pay cheque? As someone said, "Those who say money can't buy happiness, don't know where to shop." Granted, happiness is a function of more than just money but let’s be honest here, even if we have to be miserable, we'd rather be miserable with a fat bank balance than without. Moreover, worrying about whether you can afford the latest model of Mercedes Benz is a lot more glamorous than wondering whether you can afford the petrol for your Maruti 800.


So, is adding more and still more to our possessions/ bank balance the raison d'etre of our life? Demeaning as the idea may be to the human spirit, overwhelming evidence based on how we behave when confronted with choices, points just in that direction. Economists who have for centuries been insisting that maximisation of wealth is a major motivator, have, it seems, a far better grasp of human nature than the wise men who have left no stone unturned to convince us that we are actually here to 'actualise our potential'. What the sages did not care to explain was how someone without any claims to supernatural cravings or capabilities, in other words people like you and me as opposed to the more enlightened souls, could actualise their potential on an empty stomach. Mercifully along came Maslow who set the record straight. His model of the Hierarchy of Needs confirmed what we'd all suspected for ages. That actualisation of potential was possible only after basic physical, material and social needs had been satisfied. Which means we need money to make the transition from searching for food, clothing and shelter to searching for the 'higher being' within us.

A study conducted by two researchers at the University of Warwick, UK, Andrew Oswald and Jonathan Gardner, came to the conclusion that more money does, indeed, equal more happiness. Among the people they surveyed were some who came into sudden money, either through a lottery or through inheritance. The researchers compared the happiness level of these people before and after the windfall. The conclusion, bereft of the surprise of an Agatha Christie climax, pointed to what we'd for long suspected. More money was, well, really welcome. The new entrants to the richie-rich club reported not only higher levels of happiness but also lower stress levels. But what about pay and happiness? "There is a very strong link between the two," says Professor Oswald. "But it is all relative as people judge their earnings against those of their peer group." In other words, the amount you earn would definitely determine how happy you are provided, of course, you earn more than others, the emphasis, once again, being on ‘more’.

Why then do most people insist that money doesn't matter to them while cribbing, in the same breath, how little their jobs pay them? Ask the next person you meet whether money can buy happiness and hear a stout denial. How dare you even suggest something so crass? Happiness comes not from money but from love, caring etc, etc. Says a consultant who has enough dough to know what he is talking about: "Money doesn't give me happiness, only a sense of well-being." OK, maybe I'm a little dense, but did I miss something here? Back in school we were told, "happiness is a state of well-being." Or maybe I'm just over the hill and English language has changed in the years between my school days and now. But wait, that is not all. "No," continues the gentleman, "I won't be unhappy if my money is taken from me." Oh, really? How many of you remember fretting over a lost pen or a misplaced Rs 50 note? Now imagine losing everything. I can safely say that indifference will not figure among your range of reactions. Asserts Raman Gupta, a middle level executive in a MNC, "No, money doesn’t make me happy." Agreed, but keeping everything else constant (working conditions, perks, seniority), would he leave his present job for another that paid him more? Slight hesitation and then the answer, "Yes." And would earning more increase his level of satisfaction and happiness? "Yes." Q.E.D.

Is there really anyone out there, except perhaps those hoping for a CPI ticket in the next elections, who can honestly say that money isn't necessary to live a life worth living? Not many, I suspect. The wealthy are happier and not only because of their comfortable bank balances. From the quality of life they afford to how successful they perceive themselves to be, the wealthy are more satisfied with themselves than their less monied brethren. The benefits derived from money are both tangible as well as intangible. Intangible benefits like a sense of freedom, security, well-being, self-sufficiency and self-esteem, are easier to identify and appreciate. The benefits derived from tangible assets are also important insofar as they contribute to increasing the intangible benefits. For example, owning a house may bring a sense of security or a vacation may lower stress levels or donation to a charity may give a sense of having made a difference or indulgence in a hobby may bring a sense of fulfillment.

Money can buy not only material comforts but also access to a better quality of life. It represents not only security and self-sufficiency but also power and control over one's life. The more money you have, the more you feel you can give your life the shape you want. Quite simply, the affluent do not suffer from the feeling of helplessness that comes with not having the resources to call the shots, the feeling of being at someone else's mercy. They simply have more options. Money gives you the choice to do what you want without being held back by monetary limitations. As Suman Khurana (name changed) who is living in an unhappy marriage says, "If I had money, I would have left my husband and lived a happier life on my own. I am staying with him only because I do not have the financial resources to walk out of my marriage."

For some money spells freedom, the freedom to be what you want to be, to do what you like. Says Kush Gulati, an NRI working in Boston: "Yes, money can definitely buy happiness. It gives me the option of doing what I want. For example, ever since I bought my car I can frequently drive down to Maine, a place I love going to and, yes, that brings me happiness. I think you should have enough money so that you do not have to waste your time wondering if you have enough when it comes to doing what is really important to you." Moreover, the level of material prosperity you enjoy is an indicator of how successful you are, he adds. More importantly, money brings access to what would otherwise be out of reach. Things like healthcare, education, vacations, all come with a price tag. Says Meera Verma (name changed), a cancer patient, "Even though I have been struck by a terrible illness, at least I have the satisfaction of knowing that I can afford treatment. If I didn't have the money to pay my hospital bills, I would be miserable." Concurs Brijpal, a rickshawpuller, "More money would make me happier. At least I would be able to send my children to school and give them the chance to live a better life."

In present-day society, wealth is a measurable yardstick of worldly success. What you are and what the world thinks of you depends to a large extent on what you have. The world respects success and the amount of money you have helps it gauge how successful you are. Society tends to respect those with demonstrable and exceptional money-minting abilities. Conversely, those without the moolah are largely confined to the sidelines. Have you ever heard of a programme called The Lifestyles Of The Neither Rich Nor Famous or of the Forbes List of the World's Not-So-Rich? And whoever had heard of Sabeer Bhatia before he sold Hotmail for $40 million? Also, his $40 million made a bigger story than his entrepreneurial abilities. And close home, why do we talk of, say, Dhirubahi Ambani and not the friendly neighbourhood grocer? OK, stupid question, but the answer is obvious.

Money sets you free from the worry of wondering where the next gizmo is coming from. Of course, the tax department is hard at work finding out new ways to worry you. But wouldn't you agree that figuring out innovative ways to beat the tax man at his own game in the luxurious confines of an air-conditioned office is better than undertaking the same creative exercise in a government apartment with a leaking roof?

Why, then, our embarrassment at admitting that money is important to us? Why do we hesitate to say that we'd love more moolah? Why do we spend a better part of our time wooing wealth and still treat it like a four-letter word? Does our extreme distrust of matters monetary owe its genesis to a tradition that views the rich as unhappy, untrustworthy and sadistic and the poor as virtuous, wise and spiritually wealthy? From the cradle to the grave, the message is loud and clear, be content with what you have, money brings sorrow, treat it as something evil, save if you must, but don't spend. A variety of subtle and not-so-subtle influences ranging from Nehru-Gandhi socialism to our folklore to our mainstream films are hard at work trying to convince us that wealth is undesirable. So much so that a Dhirubahi Ambani arouses our suspicion because we are so convinced that he could not have made his millions without having subverted some law or the other and a Narayanmurthy is venerated more for his spartan lifestyle than for the millions he has made. Of course, the fact that these two gentlemen are being talked about at all is precisely because of the millions they have made is a cause-and-effect relationship that escapes us completely.

How happy money makes us depends on our attitude towards it. If money is used to compete with the Joneses, then it is bound to increase stress levels. Constant compulsion to possess the biggest, latest and best can lead to unhappiness but to blame money for that would be akin to blaming the car for causing the accident. Put to uses such as realising a long-cherished dream, donating to charity, spending on a favourite hobby, money can and does increase our sense of well-being. Typically, the people who are the happiest are the ones who use their money to do what they want and not to impress others.

A charge made against money is that it is never enough. True, but don't blame money for that. The trouble is that people are extremely adaptable. And adapting to a higher standard of living is a lot easier than you would think. Yesterday's luxuries have a way of becoming today's necessities. Modernisation has a tendency to push the price tag of happiness just a few notches higher. My parents remember being perfectly content with just a table fan throughout the summer back in the 1960s, I'd absolutely die without an air-conditioner. And let’s face it, a drive to Kasauli is wonderful but a holiday in Switzerland would be...well, I wouldn't know, I don't have enough money to find out. Which brings us right back to square one, that ever since the dawn of the monetary economy, everything, including happiness, comes at a price.

Love it or hate it, you cannot do without it. And like it or not, it makes the mare go. The final word must go to Woody Allen: "Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons."

I rest my case.


Money does buy happiness, proves survey

THEY say money can’t buy happiness, but according to the results of a new survey by Town & Country, being wealthy is everything its cracked up to be — and more. The rich are happier and it’s not simply because of their inflated bank accounts. From the friends they have made, to the way they live their lives, to the amount of success they have achieved, the wealthy are quite simply more content with their overall lot in life than the general population.

Seventy-six per cent of affluent Americans surveyed are completely satisfied with the moral code they live by versus only 63 per cent of the overall population of the USA. And while about half of all Americans — 53 per cent — claim to be totally satisfied with the friends they’ve made, the figure jumps to two-thirds — 67 per cent — for affluent Americans queried.

The rich also significantly outpace the rest of us when it comes to having a happy marriage — 77 per cent versus 47 per cent, an interesting job —59 per cent compared to 29 per cent, and having one or more children — 72 per cent versus 63 per cent among the overall population.

"These results fly in the face of everything we’ve ever heard about money buying happiness," said Molly Schaefer, publisher, Town & Country magazine. "While we’ve all been taught that one does not guarantee the other, apparently affluence does impact on our emotional well-being to a measurable degree."

And apparently, money doesn’t only buy happiness, it also engenders optimism. Nearly half — 49 per cent — say they have a very good chance of living "a good life," and 11 per cent say they have already achieved it. This compares to just 24 per cent and six per cent, respectively, among the general population as a whole.

The Town & Country survey also uncovered unusually strong ties to home, family and community among the upper crust. Eight respondents out of ten — fully 80 per cent — believe they have a responsibility to give back to society by taking an active role in their communities.

And keeping up with the Joneses is definitely not a motivating factor for those with money to burn. The Town & Country survey indicates the affluent spend money more to indulge themselves than to impress the neighbours. Rejecting the conspicuous consumption of the 1980s, 84 per cent say their sense of success comes from within, not from other people. Money for this group represent security and comfort, not power and position.

But they work hard for that money — two thirds work full time and many are in dual income households. With greater disposable incomes, items like a second car — 63 per cent versus 32 per cent in the general population — or a home computer — 39 per cent compared to 15 per cent — that might be luxuries to some families — are considered necessities and have higher aspirations about what constitutes "the good life."

They’re also more likely to be the first on the block to try the newest or latest version of a product. Fully 63 per cent of affluent respondents report that they like to buy what’s new in the market versus just 46 per cent for the general population. And they’re light years ahead of the population as a whole when it comes to incorporating modern technology into their lives. More than two-thirds of affluents — 68 per cent — currently own a home computer compares to only one in three —34 per cent — of the rest of us.

The Town & Country survey of 1,200 Americans — individuals with annual household incomes over $100,000 or savings and investments valued at more than $200,000 (excluding a home) — was conducted by Roper Starch Worldwide. The results are based on in-house, in-person interviews with a national cross-section of affluent Americans aged 18 years and older. The margin of error at the 95 percent confidence level ranges from two to four percentage points.

Town & Country, founded in 1846, is America’s oldest, continuously published, general interest magazine. Roper Starch Worldwide is one of the nation’s largest market research and consulting firms based in New York.

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