Money may be a contentious subject to talk about, which is why it’s taken me days to write this post, but it’s a fundamental part of life. Although the amount of money we have influences our social status and determines how much control we have over our circumstances, I still believe in the old adage that money can’t buy happiness.
I recently read a fascinating Freakonomics article titled “The Economics of Happiness” which explores something called the Easterlin Paradox: the idea that although people become happier once they can afford basic necessities, there’s a threshold over which happiness no longer increases due to having more money.
“Life satisfaction does rise with average incomes but only up to a point – beyond that the gain in happiness goes down” (Economic and Social Research Council)
This suggests that rather than continually striving to have more money, we should simply aspire to have enough money to be able to live our lives without financial constraints. I try to keep this in mind whenever I find myself wishing that I earned a higher salary or feeling envious of lottery winners!
I was 11 when the National Lottery launched in 1994 and although I was too young to buy a ticket myself, my mum bought one and we both got caught up in “lottery fever”. We were among the 25 million people who watched the first live draw, hoping to turn £1 into £1,000,000 (although the £5.9m jackpot was shared by seven winners, so none of them actually became millionaires). Unfortunately we didn’t even win £10 for matching three numbers – thanks for nothing, Noel Edmonds!
I remember reading about the first few jackpot winners in the newspaper and being fascinated by what they said they would do with the money. Smiling widely as they posed with bottles of champagne, they all seemed adamant that their new-found riches wouldn’t change them, yet they planned to buy the type of expensive houses, cars and holidays associated with a very different lifestyle. I must have written the poem below shortly afterwards.
I remember wondering what it would be like if my family won the lottery and didn’t have to worry about money any more, but looking back I’m glad that I grew up in a household where money was tight because it taught me how to live within my means.
I learned how to shop on a budget by watching my mum compare prices, use coupons and rummage through reduced shelves to save money on the weekly shop. To this day, I never buy anything full-price if I can help it and I’m often teased by my friends and family for being a deal-hunter (I can’t watch Extreme Couponing because I know I’ll be tempted to turn the spare room into a stockpile!). My mum also taught me to think about whether I really need something or just want it, and her advice still pops into my head (often because she’s actually there to say it to me!) whenever I’m tempted to treat myself to yet another dress/handbag/pair of shoes.
My nanna encouraged me to “look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves” by giving me a self=sorting piggy bank so that I could save some of my pocket money “for a rainy day”. Although I didn’t understand why a rainy day was something to save for, I loved watching the bronze and silver coins stack up and I’ve been a diligent saver ever since. My nanna also taught me how to be thrifty, for example by cutting up used envelopes into shopping list-sized scrap paper and running after the postman to collect the elastic bands he discarded as he unwrapped each new stack of envelopes! I still like to reuse and recycle as much as possible, much to my husband’s chagrin; he teases me about saving the packaging from any parcels we receive but he’s also quick to ask me for a padded envelope whenever he sells something on eBay!
As an adult, I credit my financial stability to the lessons I learned during my childhood and I’m happy with my current circumstances – although I certainly wouldn’t say no to earning more money or winning the lottery! Money might make things easier but it doesn’t buy happiness and it’s not the only indicator of success, which is the sentiment of this new poem about defining your self-worth in other ways.