Thursday, 1 February 2007

Guest Slapper of the Month XIII

Guests are a godsend when one is very busy. Not in real life, of course: they get in the way – especially if you work from home – and you have to entertain them, but as a blogger... You give them a deadline and they produce a piece of writing, which you just have to post on your own blog. Marvellous! So here, for your delight, is L. of Urban Chick. She used to live in London, where she was literate, witty and the devoted mother of two kiddies she calls Chicklets (isn't that cute?). I once thought we might one day bump into each other in the capital (I’m always bumping into people) but she's recently decamped to Edinburgh, where she's being no less literate and witty (and, I hope, no less devoted to her children), and that possibility has unfortunately become more remote. Never mind, I can still visit her on the Net, and so can you. Enjoy!

It's an established fact that, beyond a certain point, wealth does not make you any happier.

I forget the figure most recently quoted in the media, but I remember it being a surprisingly paltry sum in income terms.

And I couldn't agree more. Commercialism, with very few exceptions, leads only to misery and wasted time.
You know how it goes...

You buy a new white good. Perhaps you do so after taking time out to research which model is best/most reliable (an hour online). It fails to arrive within the timescale stated, so you chase the manufacturer or retailer (an hour and a half on the phone, during which you encounter some appalling customer service that leaves you mentally penning emails to consumer rights bodies and media outlets when you should be sleeping). The product arrives and it is slightly damaged but not to the extent that it won't function, but you fret and stress and complain to your friends nonetheless (many hours). You eventually decide that, given the considerable sum you paid for it, you want a replacement, so you investigate how to go about this (more hours spent online or on the phone to 'jobsworth', scripted call centre operators). You make arrangements to return the product or have it collected 'at your convenience' (you're getting the picture now, right?).

So this lovely, shiny new thing which was supposed to transform your toast-making abilities/TV-programme-recording capacity/life has cost you precious hours of tedious activity, infuriating interactions with faceless service providers and stress.

You therefore resolve to lead a life free from unnecessary acquisition and you take time painstakingly to establish just what is and isn't necessary to live a good life (no excessively packaged foods, fewer clothes, no more purposeless ambles around indoor shopping centres and so on). And yet, with frightening ease, you find yourself slipping back onto the path of least resistance.

You find yourself being sucked in by those ubiquitous 'buy one, get one free' or 'three for the price of two' offers. No matter that the product was not something you particularly needed or that it's likely to go off before you get round to opening it. Heck, if the second one is half price, why not?

You become convinced that you need a newer version of a product you already own. A faster computer. A new car. A more aesthetically pleasing ironing board cover. The one you have is perfectly functional but there seems to be a good case for upgrading/renewing/replacing. (To hell with landfill and the environment!)

You give in to well-meaning relatives who regularly deluge your children with toys at birthdays and Christmastime, even though you've tried (subtly) to remind them how much more imaginative children's play is when they have to improvise with bits and bobs from around the house.

So I'm slapping the people who continue to believe that acquisition leads to happiness. But I'm slapping myself for being so weak in the face of this knowledge and giving in to the commercial imperative. (Hey, who can resist a little self-flagellation now and again?)


  1. I think more and more people are going to start thinking this way. Every now and again I get disgusted by everyone else's, and my own, throwaway tendencies. And I think this is the right way to feel. But this attitude faces a daily barrage from manufacturers, advertisers and salespeople (like Bela with her specs, see recent post). And the waters are also muddied by our being somehow made responsible by the government for the 'National Economy', which apparently thrives better when we Spend - you know how, after every Christmas, it was either a Bumper Christmas for the Economy, or we somehow failed by being mean that year and now it's our fault if small shops go out of business, the pound sinks, shares fall, etc etc. And what about all those people who overspend and then simply go bankrupt and get free of their debts, with no social stigma and only 2 years of not being allowed credit? How are we expected to make sense of these contradictory messages? But it's one of the most important questions of our time, isn't it? So we have to try...

  2. Yay! I love Urban Chick!

    You are so right about this.

    A few years ago I read a summary of research on income and other predictors of happiness. In a nutshell, it stated that beyond about $100,000/year (in the U.S., and I'm sure this varies by region), income no longer increases happiness. My DH and I discovered that we had all the other ingredients that DID increase it (e.g., good health, family connections, etc.) except one: we weren't involved in charitable service (what the rich call philanthropy). Giving one's riches and/or time seems to increase one's sense of well-being. So we added that to the mix.

    I don't know who first said it, but the idea that "money doesn't solve your problems, it just makes your problems more expensive" is spot-on. (Unless your problem is stark poverty, in which case money is handy-dandy.)

    As someone who studies the psychological, behavioral, and health-related effects of mass media exposure on children and adolescents, I can tell you that at least ONE of the reasons we keep buying into the notion that acquisition of objects will make us happy is that it's shoved down our throats from every magazine, billboard, and bus flying past. Our discontent is profitable for marketers. But does all that profit make THEM happy? Apparently not. ;-)

  3. lulu: you're right - it is a constant battle and the ambition to live a simpler life runs contrary to messages emanating from the business sector, government and so on

    ww: in fact, the most recently publicised research over here put that income level at a paltry £10,000 per annum ($19,000??) - amazing, eh?

  4. £10k? Presumably not in London though.

    Rather than money itself, I think what does add to happiness is knowing there will always be enough. As a freelancer I'm not blessed with that knowledge and it makes me very nervous indeed.

  5. I have a drawer full of paper about downshifting and I am scared to do it. I love my big(gish) salary and being solvent, and I remember too well how miserable it used to be on the breadline -- sometimes not even the money for a stamp; sometimes having to have the phone cut off. Yet my life today is full of the kind of stupid stresses you have just delineated so well, Urban Chick. Good on you!!

  6. I hate waste and try not to be swayed by ads, etc. There's nothing wrong with a little retail therapy - the odd lipstick or book or whatever, but nothing more than that.

    GSE, I don't even earn £10,000 a year (before tax) these days (and my income has never been over £12,000). I am proof that it is possible to live on very little money, in London. You're absolutely right: as far as freelancers as concerned, the lack of job security is the main impediment to happiness.

  7. GSE, I have tried to convey that to my widowed mother, who is on a pretty OK annual pension, some of it state, some of it from my father's employment with John Lewis. She gets around £9,000 a year, but of course her mortgage is paid off. She keeps starting to fret about money (despite managing to SAVE £100 a month and fill her wardrobe with new clothes and accessories every week - I'm not sure what she's saving for aged 77!), and I keep saying, better £9,000 a year that no one will ever, ever take away than a fluctuating income that depends on you being healthy enough to go out and earn it! Roll on - er - 67 in my case...

    As a freelancer myself, I had a couple of good years a while back, and I definitely now know the amount which makes me feel contented. It's not £10,000, but it's well below $100,000 (what's that, around £50,000?). For me personally, it was having the money to pay all my bills on time, PLUS an extra £20 a week to spend on food above the basics including a daily cappuccino out, PLUS an extra £50 every three weeks or so for a haircut or a posh dinner out with my partner or an iPod shuffle or 3 for 2 books in Books Etc or some treat or other, PLUS the knowledge that when I needed a plumber or a car repair or a new computer - say twice a year some disaster like that - I had the £500-700 spare to pay for it. That to me is a luxurious lifestyle, because money becomes simply not an issue. Beyond that, several more tens of thousands definitely wouldn't have made much difference unless it leapt up to the kind of band which would mean I could live somewhere wonderful like Covent Garden or Marylebone, i.e. £150,000 a year or something, which I will never earn so it's not worth thinking about. I'm back on a normal income now for a freelance editor, but it was interesting to find that out. I'm not sure I would have believed that otherwise.

  8. Hi Bela! I've been away and so I'm catching up here. You've picked another good guest.

    I need a good slap. I'm afraid I tend to spend money as if I had it.

  9. gosh - how do you manage bela? I spend 10k a year on basics - utilities, council tax, insurance, season ticket, obscenely high service charge etc. That's before food, although it does include a subscription to the Economist. And it goes up without fail every year.

  10. The only people that say that money doesn't matter-Have Lots of it-lol. I Do agree that this is getting to be more and more the haves and the have nots and there is a lot of greed and ingratitude.

    Beyond the bare necessities, enough food, a safe place to live, clothing, access to good health care and a few little luxeries here and there to make life fun-I don't think that money can buy happiness.

    I have an Aunt who has a dollar less than God and is miserable as hell. She has been poor as a child, has been a millionaire for half of her life. She always a very discontent person, in both situations.

    Unfortunately for my family, who have been in really bad shape financially at times, the Only thing she has been Always been willling to consistently share is her misery ;-)


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