Many people worldwide, Malaysians included, believe it is money and not love that makes them happy.
JANE Austen might have been the queen of romance fiction in the 18th century but even she believed that a “large income” was the best recipe for happiness.
The Beatles sang “All you need is Love” during the hippie era but then they didn't just survive on love. When they released the hit song in 1967, they had already made their millions.
For celebutante Paris Hilton, money and happiness seem to come in one package. The Hilton heiress once famously declared: “I get half a million just to show up at parties. My life is, like, really, really fun.”
Given the current gloomy global economy, many people have found that money does indeed help give the world a spin.
As a recent survey by global market research company Ipsos showed, more people today believe that money can make them happy. The survey was conducted among 20,000 people in 24 countries.
Pursuit of happiness: Tam (front) quit her job to take up volunteering, which she enjoys. Other people are thrilled just to have cash in their hands (below).
When given a list of factors for improving their well-being and quality of life, 89% chose a stronger economy in their country as the very or somewhat important factor.
Only 56% put finding a romantic partner high on their happiness stakes, while 49% listed meditation or prayer.
Although Malaysia was not a part of the survey, the findings are something that Malaysians can relate to.
Many if not all of us are always complaining about our “low-paying” jobs and how we would be much happier if we had more money.
Rudy Teo, 30, is one who believes that money can buy happiness, to a certain extent.
“I can understand that some people may disagree, but they probably have never felt hardship and the need for money,” he says.
He shares that for three years, he was really depressed as he had no savings in his bank. Now that he has managed to save up some money and put a downpayment on an apartment and a car he feels more cheerful.
“I can safely say that money has bought me some level of happiness. Not at the level of probably seeing a son being born but it does make me pretty happy,” he says.
He says that he became resolved to pursue this “happiness” after seeing his sister slogging hard but somehow managed to stay happy despite the suffering at work.
“It was because she was earning good money. So, I told myself that I need to do that too,” he says, confessing that he would do anything for a big paycheck, although not anything illegal.
Online entrepreneur and Internet marketing coach Suthan Mookaiah, 26, points out that it is not happiness that money can buy but experiences that can make you feel on top of the world.
Having grown up in a rough neighbourhood, Suthan was exposed to all sorts of bad hats such as motorcycle thieves and alcoholics when he was younger.
“I could have easily turned out like one of them,” he shares.
Now a millionaire, Suthan has moved into a “better” neighbourhood, which offers him peace of mind. He admits that he hated being poor when he was younger.
“I don't agree with people who say that money is not important at all. You need a bit of money. You might not need RM20mil but you would need at least some savings to stay happy,” he says.
Poor people are not necessarily less happy than rich people. - DR GOH CHEE LEONG
Tan Bee Li, 25, agrees, saying that you need money to be able to do certain things, especially leisure pursuits.
She does not mind spending money on activities such as rock climbing, dance classes and martial arts classes, adding: “I look forward to these activities and they make me happy.”
Tan admits that she would be worried if she was without financial security. She, however, has no ambitions of becoming filthy rich, as money is “never enough”.
“I would not be concerned as long as I can save and enjoy the leisure activities,” she says, describing money as just an enabler for her in attaining happiness.
Having money also calms Sumitra Rajendra, 31, a community manager at the Corporate Communications Web Program Office of the World Bank in Washington DC.
Knowing that she has extra cash to spare makes her less stressed, she says, and she enjoys spending it on things that she wants.
But, she notes, she is happiest when what she does has an impact on others and she is valued for her work and relationship. “Still, money is a part of that equation because a promotion often means more money,” she says.
Sumitra, however, reveals that she would not hesitate to take a pay cut for a job that would make her happier because her priority is to create an impact in the area she works in. She believes that happiness is a state of being and is really hard to quantify.
Graphic designer Saddiq Yahya does not mind being unfashionable, and subscribes to his mother's “wise words” “Money won't buy you happiness.”
“My mum has told me that money can buy you a big house but not a home. It can buy you food but not an appetite,” he says. While having extra money is an advantage, he won't go out of his way just to make more money.
“One can always go out and find money, but the time expended cannot be replaced. I would rather spend that time with my family and friends or on simple pleasures,” he says.
Happiness to him is also not owing money to anyone. “If I owed people a lot of money, I would feel miserable,” he adds.
For Tam Kar Lye, happiness means being able to do the things she likes. She quit her office job, which she hated, a few years ago to become a volunteer worker.
“I couldn't stand working solely for money,” she says. After leaving the rat race, she joined the Centre of Orang Asli Concerns (COAC) and has never looked back since.
Happiness did not come easy though as she had to rely on her savings, which was stressful. Recently, she got a part-time job she enjoys.
Luckily, her parents have been supportive, although some of her friends and relatives think she is “crazy”. But what is important for her is that she is happy at work.
She says she is also more appreciative of what she has now as through her volunteer work, she has met many people with barely enough to survive on but are thankful for whatever little they have.
“I don't disagree that money is important, I just need enough. Everyone only needs a certain amount to survive, the extras are just to show off,” she claims.
For Tam, a simple phone that can make calls and send text messages is more than enough for her.
Psychologist Dr Goh Chee Leong says that while money is not a basic need, it is essential for us to have shelter, protection and food.
“These three aspects are necessary for survival and they can certainly affect our satisfaction and well-being in life,” he says, before quickly pointing out that happiness is not confined to basic survival needs.
According to Dr Goh, who is the dean of HELP University College's Behavioural Sciences Faculty, research in the area of positive psychology indicates that different types of happiness exist.
One is the seeking of pleasure through buying expensive things like jewellery, going for holidays and driving luxury cars.
“The argument is that money may buy some level of happiness when it comes to materialistic pursuits,” he concedes.
Dr Goh, however, highlights how research shows that long-term happiness relies on various factors such as having meaning in life; making a positive impact on the community and world; being involved in an activity or job that one is passionate about; and fostering meaningful relationships with others.
While he agrees that not being able to meet the basic needs may affect one's happiness in life, he points out that poor people are not necessarily less happy than rich people.
As he sees it, the idea that materialism or buying power will lead to greater satisfaction is a dangerous philosophy to have because money and possessions will never make anyone feel complete as a person.