From a personal standpoint I have mixed feelings about the report. I tend to see the world through a rather narrow field of my everyday existence, so I don’t believe the happiness versus money debate is black and white. Instead, it resembles a painting given to you by your two-year old child. There are simply too many ingredients that go into the soup bowl of a great and happy life to make bold statements like ‘more money makes you happy.’
I remember when I was drowning in credit card debt. The armbands had holes in them and the riptide was dragging me under. The only thing that saved me from going doolally were my constant reminders that worrying about it wasn’t going to make one penny of it disappear. I am also incredibly positive when I want to be. Despite being in debt I have always been a money magnet. Not in a big way, but enough to make me believe I will never be short of the stuff. So a little bit of positive thinking, faith in my ability and a great big spoonful of hope was what dragged my sorry arse through that episode without a vein or twelve popping inside my head.
When I was in debt I knew that I either had to cut costs or increase income. I was also very secretive about my financial situation and didn’t declare my hand to my ex-wife for an awfully long time. I took the decision to attack my problem from both sides, but I never consulted my ex-wife. This is wrong and causes all sorts of friction and confusion. I knew that if I wanted to earn more income then I needed to gain promotion quicker. My thinking in this department was very one-dimensional. I was a senior manager working for a top freight railway firm, and so I never considered the possibility of making more money from outside of the railway industry. Instead, I got my head down and worked as hard as I could.
Absorbing myself in my work resulted in a number of very different consequences. I had to tow the party line and carry out orders delivered from the top. Orders that I didn’t necessary agree with. This built up a dangerous level of anger inside of my bones. Anger at myself for not being man enough to make my own decisions, for being a slave and for not having the power and influence to change the minds of monsters. I was also angry at those monsters and the world in general for forcing me to work in the first place.
The more time I spent in work, the more time I was away from my family. Even when I was at home my ‘mind’ was in work. It was the age of the Blackberry and the reach of the monsters clawed at me 24/7, 52-weeks of the year.
“I’m doing this for you!”
I’ve lost count at the amount of times that sentence spewed out of my mouth in angry exchanges with my ex. As they splattered all over her face, and slowly broke her heart, I truly believed they were true. I didn’t have the skills to see life any differently. In those moments I was my father. I only knew one way to live and that was to work as hard as I could to earn as much money as I could. But here I was earning as much as I could and yet I was not happy.
At the other end of the scale I was also trying to cut out costs, but I was terribly inconsistent. I am a people pleaser. Always have been and might always be. I would complain if my ex-wife bought anything without my consent and then justify the reasons why I could do likewise. I abused my position as owner of the purse strings and drove a stake of ambivalence into the heart of those I loved. I am still like that today, despite understanding the damage it can cause. I purchase anything that I want, and then criticise my partner when she does the same. When it comes to cash I am always judging. I hate it and I want it to stop.
As I sit here typing this article I am free from those monsters that once ruled my mind. I am debt free and the relationship that I did so much to wreak havoc in has crumbled and fallen apart. I am in love with a new woman and have started to invest 20% of my gross income for the first time in my life. I have money locked up in pensions, I travel all over the world and I am progressing nicely in my choice of career.
So am I happy?
In general I am happier, and being free of debt helps, but the worry about losing all that I have ensures that I will never be truly free. I am also very lonely right now. My partner is working abroad and for the past week I have pottered about my flat, working extremely hard all of the time, yet feeling like I am missing something. If I was to win £20 million today, I would be happy for a short while, but then I would fall back into the place I am now. Having more money is not going to provide me with more fulfilling relationships? It won’t prevent me from being lonely. Neither will the worry that I could lose it all tomorrow. I am a man who lives life on the tightrope and I don’t shell out a single penny for the safety net. If I fall, I die, and I’m fine with that. If I were to earn £20 million today then I would just invest more tomorrow. I would still worry that the stock exchange could turn and I could lose everything. I would embrace philanthropy and then worry that I would not be able to keep up the pace. I will give my son anything and everything and worry if it will turn him into a man I do not like.
Money provides you with a lot of amazing things. But does it provide you with more happiness than the person who has none? According to Messrs Wolfers and Stevenson there are at least 1,014 people who believe that it does. But I’m not sure that it does. I think having more money is akin to my father visiting the doctors for medication for his terrible cough, and then coming home and devouring 40-cigarettes per day. It may alleviate his cough for a few days, but he’s still going to die of a smoking related illness at one time or another.
Money is a band-aid for a self-mutilator; it stops the flow of blood and provides momentarily relief. But if you want to really stop the blood from spilling on the floor, you really have to stop going into the kitchen cupboard, taking out that knife and slashing your skin; and instead sit down with someone who can help you get to the bottom of why you feel compelled to do it in the first place.
For me the same is true for happiness. The real root cause of why someone is unhappy will rarely, if ever, fall at the feet of the fifty-dollar bill. It’s all about people, relationships, love and touch. When those who you care about the most are happy then you are happy. Figure out how to make that happen and it doesn’t matter if you are a Lollypop Lady earning £3,000 per year whilst kids spit at you as they walk across the street.