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Why more money always means more happiness

Saturday, 11 May 2013 - 8:13am IST | Agency: DNA
  • Sudhir Shetty DNA

“The rich are different from you and I.”

“Yes, they have more money.”

Papa Hemingway’s retort to F Scott Fitzgerald was inadequate. Recent research shows that not only do the rich have more money, they actually have more ... yes, happiness! According to the redoubtable Stevenson (Betsey) and Wolfers (Justin, since you didn’t ask), people with more money are generally happier. I can see you rolling your eyes and going “Yeah right! Rocket science!” But wait, it may not be that simple. Let’s go through this step by step.

Yes, it’s difficult to be happy with the wolf at the door and hunger stabbing your vitals. A minimum amount of money is essential – food, medicines, clothing don’t come free in the modern world. (And no, we shall not bring the Amish into this discussion.) So Step 1: no money = no happiness.

We move on to the next level, where there’s enough money to cover the basic needs. Surely it’s much easier to be happy on a full stomach, when the roof’s not leaking and there’s summat left over for a smoke? I think we can accept Step 2: adequate money = some happiness. What happens next?

If the gentle reader will accept my personal view, the more money I have, the happier I feel. (This, alas, is a matter of conjecture, since neither my employers nor my editors are inclined to test the hypothesis.) Professional recognition? Creative satisfaction? Pshaw! Show me the money, honey! Hillaire Belloc summed it up in two memorable lines — “I’m tired of Love, I’m still more tired of Rhyme/ But Money gives me Pleasure every Time!” Does this hold true universally?

Now a young man, unexpectedly inheriting a few millions from a kind uncle, could still be forlorn because his lady love spurns him. Would he remain inconsolable? A million (or even a billion) doesn’t stretch as far as it used to (it’s scandalous how much one has to pay for a Caribbean island or a private navy!), but money can buy pleasure, no matter how transient. For those so inclined, money can even buy solitude. Furthermore, a young person with a few millions is far more likely to find a new companion for consolation. Hey Beatles, money may not buy your love, but you’re in a minority.

If we agree that a minimum level of money is essential for happiness, and happiness tends to increase as money increases, is there an upper limit? Does happiness stop increasing once a certain level of wealth has been reached? Stevenson and Wolfers disagree. They state that “there is no evidence of a ‘satiation’ point in the link between money and happiness”. In other words, I am a fairly representative sample — the more money one has, the happier one is likely to be (unless Justin Bieber lives next door). They also found “no evidence of a significant break in either the happiness-income relationship, nor in the life satisfaction-income relationship, even at annual incomes up to half a million dollars”. That’s it. Money does buy happiness.

Now when they want to test the effects on happiness of incomes above $500,000, I’d be happy to offer my services.

The author is a reluctant bureaucrat and an avid photographer.


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