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Is money the root of all happiness?

I was interested to read an article on happiness in today's Guardian, which suggested that indeed money might make you happy.

I was interested to read an article on happiness in today's Guardian, which suggested that indeed money might make you happy.

Hardly a surprise when it's a question from Davos, abounding as it does in people who value money a great deal, but happiness is one of those tricky questions that we all juggle with. Generally, you know if you're happy, but defining quite why can often be difficult. 

You're certainly happy when you recover from illness, or when your headache disappears. You're happy when you see loved ones you've been missing. 

But many of us - especially in the west - have trouble differentiating happiness from comfort, and even more problem differentiating it from pleasure.

Comfort can certainly be helped by money - money buys decent housing, central heating, comfy sofas and lots of gewgaws. 

And pleasure can certainly be helped by money - money enables you to travel, to indulge your hobbies, to buy new clothes - all those things will give you pleasure. But I feel that happiness is something different - it requires meaning.

Meaningless sex, meaningless relationships, meaningless activities, and buying meaningless things may all give pleasure while they're being indulged in. But long-term, they may actually lead to unhappiness just like overdrinking leads to a hangover.

Human beings require purpose in order to obtain satisfaction, and pleasure doesn't necessarily lead to satisfaction - the wonderful meal that you know is putting pounds on you, spending time with the interesting man that you know perfectly well can live without you.

It is only a minor example, but I love pratting about with fabric. Purchasing new fabric or trimmings to sew with gives me pleasure, and the sewing itself also gives me pleasure while I'm doing it. But it's the achievement of creating something that actually gives me happiness. If I sew and cock it up - which I frequently do - the end result is dissatisfaction, not happiness, although the activity itself was the same. 

Money is useful here, because money increases my pleasure - the more money I have, the more money I can spend on sewing materials. But I also know that if I didn't have a cent, I'd still be out there, pressing leaves, making collages, tearing up fabric and weaving it to make something new, finding some way to be creative, because it is the being creative that is absolutely necessary to my psyche. 

For other people, it's other things. Being close to family, perhaps, which gives most people a warm, fuzzy feeling that nothing else can matc. But whatever it is, it pays each person to work out what it is, and focus on that. That is the way to true happiness, such as anyone can attain it in this life. 


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I was interested to read an article on happiness in today's Guardian, which suggested that indeed money might make you happy.


Nine tips for happiness

Psychologist Linda Blair has a good idea of the basic ways in which you can be your own therapist.

I thought this article in the Guardian the other day was eminently sensible.

Psychologist Linda Blair lays out her nine best tips for helping yourself, with some background anecdotes. She even quotes my old friend and lecturer Mary Beard, who gave her Milo the strongman as an example from ancient Greece. 

Here are her tips:

* Trust yourself. 

* Break down your problem into smaller parts.

* Clarify your aims. 

* Consider the role you yourself are playing in maintaining your problem. 

* Seek out role models to inspire you. 

* Build on the positive rather than only trying to eradicate the negative. 

* Learn to forgive. 

* Don't expect to find only one answer. 

* Be prepared for change and expect to encounter problems throughout your life.

Well, broadly I'd second all of that. This is very sound advice. And much of it, incidentally, is quite wabi-sabi - a philosophy without which, in the absence of a religious belief, I would probably be dead in the water.

There are all kinds of places you can find something useful to help you through the barrel of shit that is life. Despite a decade of therapy to enable me to try to cope with the legacy of my screwy family, a single Buddhist phrase did more to help me than any amount of Freud: 'No matter what the circumstances of your growing up, you were the recipient of much kindness".

Bingo. That was easy - that single phrase enabled me finally to stop wittering about my awful parents and remember that I had had great teachers, and kindness from the parents of schoolfriends - good role models for how well-adjusted families might actually behave. I did not have to rely solely on my upbringing (not that it was all bad by any means).

Learning to forgive was something I found difficult for a long time. But again, I was saved by just one piece of wisdom from D, a fond parent to two now-adult children. "I do believe everyone is the best parent they know how to be," she said once, and I had another lightbulb moment. I realised that my parents hadn't set out to screw up their marriage and make their children unhappy. This was something that had happened, not something they had designed deliberately. I now understand that they would have preferred to be happy people - they just couldn't find a way to make it happen.

Looking at the role you yourself take in your own problems is something that comes hard to many people. It can take time to realise that it is often your fault if people treat you badly. Two quotes I find useful here are: "No-one can make you feel inferior without your consent," (Eleanor Roosevelt) and "Up to the age of 30 you can blame your parents: after that, you can only blame yourself." The latter quote is anonymous, but its bluntness is bang-on - the world does not owe you a living and if you allow yourself to be scuppered by it, you will go under - and it will be your own fault. After the age of 30, your life is your own product, not someone else's. 

Some of these areas I'm stll working on, such as breaking down a problem into its constituent parts rather than being overwhelmed by it, but that's life I guess - you keep on trying until you drop off the twig. 

Anyway, it's well worth visiting this article and giving it a read. 




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