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Can money really buy happiness?

Jessica Green - Monday, July 02, 2018

They say money can't buy you love, but can it at least buy you happiness?  The pursuit of a definition for 'happiness' could no doubt fill a thesis or two, in the first place!  But in terms of its price, if you search online under headings along the lines of 'the cost of happiness', you'll find plenty of research going back years, so it's clearly something we've long been interested in.  It's taxed philosophers, spiritual leaders and industrialists alike, and the internet is awash with quotes on the subject. 

Financial experts Sunlife revealed in their latest Cash Happy report (2017) that money-related happiness may be more obtainable than we think. Sunlife’s Cash Happy started in 2015 and is an annual report that studies the link between the day to day finances of households and their happiness levels.

The study surveyed 3,013 people responsible for their household's financial decisions, with questions assessing their happiness in the present, the immediate past and projecting into the next five years.  It concluded that there's a definite link between having some cash left over at the end of the month and happiness. 

The good news is that there doesn't need to be lots of it!  It was found that after all necessities had been accounted for (rent/mortgage, transport, clothing, food, bills, etc.) the average household in the UK has £447 spare cash per month, or £44 per adult per week. The happiest 10% of adults have £82 per week. This means that the average UK adult only needs to find an extra £38 a week to be in the happiest 10%.

However, it is not all about how much money you have. How you spend your money can be just as influential on a person’s happiness levels.  Using money to enhance others' lives, such as gifts to family or supporting charity, may be important to many people, and some may find that spending on experiences rather than material things is particularly life-enhancing. Money can easily be squandered if we spend it on items that we assume are going to make us happy but turn out to be a disappointment. 

Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (http://www.pnas.org/content/114/32/8523) found that spending money on time saving things (such as paying a cleaner) made people happier than spending on material things. The group of researchers carried out a survey on over 6,000 adults in the United States, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands. They found that the people who made time saving purchases were 23% happier.

The happiness factor seems to be linked to the freedom to do whatever you wish with your spare cash - in other words it's your choice.  And being 'cash happy' may be more attainable than you expect; the Cash Happy report shows that the more left-over cash we have, the happier we are. However, there does come a point when the rate of increase in happiness slows down.  To be in the top 10% bracket for happiness, the average person just needs to find an extra £38 per week, or £5 per day- it's not necessarily the realm of millionaires!

SunLife see these results as encouraging and a clear signal that with careful budgeting and planning - including the peace of mind afforded by savings, investments and pensions - people can enjoy more spare cash and thus be happier.  Happy days!

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