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It's not a definite scientific answer, but the Easterlin Paradox says that although within a society rich people tend to be happier than poor people, rich societies also tend not to be any happier than poor societies. In other words, countries don't become happier as they get richer. Strange as it sounds, this actually makes a lot of sense. The Centre for Well-being at the New Economics Foundation has found that at lower income levels, say a salary of £15,000, there is a strong relationship between income and well-being - but as you move up the income scale that link disappears.
So, people do get happier as they get richer - but only up to a point. After that we don't get any happier no matter how much money we make. Some of us actually become more miserable.
Of course, you need a minimum amount of money to survive in our society, and the Rowntree Foundation has recently tried to come up with exactly how much. They reckon a single person needs at least £14,400 a year to have an acceptable standard of living in Britain. That estimate means you can survive, but it's probably not enough for you to be happy. The ideal scenario is to have enough money so that you don't have to worry financially, so long as you are careful about what you do with your money.
The magic happiness figure is a lot less than you think. Most studies put the figure at which the relationship between money and happiness stops at somewhere around £24,000 - £27,000. Any income over that rough marker is, in theory at least, likely to have a minimal effect on your happiness. Other aspects of life - like having fulfilling friendships and rewarding work - play a much bigger role in our happiness once our income reaches a certain level.
Avoiding the miserable side of money
Money may not buy us happiness, but poverty can certainly bring unhappiness, especially if it leads to bankruptcy and homelessness.
Being in debt is bad for you wallet and wellbeing. You can get yourself back in the black more quickly and easily than you might imagine though. We've got loads of ideas to help: from a step-by-step guide to getting out of debt to beating your credit card balance, there are ways to take control of your finances and get back on the straight and narrow. Then you can start managing your money so you can be better prepared, and start building up wealth for the future.
If it's any consolation, the grass isn't always greener on the rich side of the fence.
American engineer and aviator Howard Hughes was one of the wealthiest people in the world during his lifetime. A crippling obsessive-compulsive disorder and a severe drug addiction meant that he spent much of his later life as a distressed and miserable recluse. He went from being Hollywood's darling to a man who didn't wash or cut his fingernails for months on end. And in the tragic Michael Jackson we saw an incredibly wealthy but desperately unhappy individual, whose obsession with his appearance led him to an early death.
So how do some of the über-rich people of today, like Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Oprah, manage to stay happy even with their incredible wealth? Perhaps it's because they give so much of their wealth away to charity, or maybe because to some extent, they still don't really live the millionaire's lifestyle.
How to be rich without trying
Slow and steady is a good way of winning the financial race. Warren Buffett is a patient millionaire. He didn't acquire his wealth overnight. He worked hard at being a clever investor, and built up his riches slowly and steadily. And you can do the same.
Investing really isn't as complicated as you think. Over time, just making small daily savings on things that aren't essential and cutting back on a few little luxuries can help you build up wealth. Just think, putting away £100 a month for 40 years, into something paying around 10%, would net you over half a million pounds! Time is something no amount of money can buy; as it's free you might as well use it!
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Much of the time we feel happy or sad, rich or poor simply by comparing ourselves with others. So if you want to feel rich quickly, stop comparing yourself to the Jones' next door.
And as the Western world gets richer it's getting more and more ridiculous. Multi-billionaire Jim Clark recently said "I think that what Larry Ellison and Bill Gates have is phenomenal wealth. I'm just a two-bit billionaire." Doesn't it make your heart bleed?
The remote Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, which is intensely Buddhist and by Western standards, poor, has attempted to, in all seriousness, work out its Gross National Happiness. By their government's measures, 68% of the Bhutanese people are happy - in a country which has only had television and the internet since 1999. They're happy because tradition, not money, is the cornerstone of Bhutanese daily life.
Actually there's no truly objective measurement of richness. An old Chinese proverb says that 'poverty is needing more'. You can have any amount of money but if you think you need something more, you're poor.
So the very best way to be rich without really trying at all is to realise - and be grateful for - the fact that we genuinely are all much richer than we think already.
There are a few things we can learn from those people, and we might be learning from them in the recession. When we're all forced to curb our spending simple pleasures come to the fore again, as people realise that their time, their relationships and sense of well being has no quantifiable financial value. It's cliched but perhaps there's a grain of truth in observing that the recession has forced us to go back to basics. You really don't need a million pounds to be happy: the best things in life are (as good as) free.
Together, We Can Change Lives
Operation Smile mobilizes a world of generous hearts to heal children’s smiles and transform lives across the globe. Operation Smile’s network of volunteers works worldwide to repair childhood facial deformities including cleft lips and cleft palates.
I hope you'll help me bring hope and new smiles to children suffering from facial deformities.