Thu, Jul 10, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Money is not buying happiness these days

By Jason Yeh 葉家興

A family-research team in the UK has gathered information on the salaries of 10,000 adults over the past seven years, and asked participants to grade their satisfaction with salary, boss, working hours, safety, autonomy and possibilities of promotion. People with an annual income of around ?13,000 rank highest on the salary-satisfaction index put together by the project team. Median income in the UK is about ?20,000. In other words, those with an annual income of about two-thirds the UK average are best able to lead a happy life and they clearly enjoy their work more than those with high salaries.

An annual income of ?12,000 is roughly equivalent to NT$66,000 per month. If that figure is adjusted according to the purchasing power (average income per person) index, it is equivalent to about NT$35,000. Is that a high figure? Not really, but in the UK, where the cost of living is very high, these people lead the happiest lives.

The survey also found that the constant pursuit of wealth may lead to unhappiness. Many of the super-rich participants were less happy than regular people. In addition, women are more satisfied with their jobs than men, even though their salaries are lower. Many women who have risen from low-paid to high-paid jobs said their happiness levels had fallen even though their job satisfaction improved slightly. One obvious effect was increased job stress.

This survey is undoubtedly a wake-up call to those who constantly stress competitiveness. Our mainstream media and business magazines are full of articles worshipping economic growth and praising top corporate leaders. It seems as if we are only able to guarantee a worry-free, happy life by maintaining competitiveness, pursuing salary increases and promotions and by gaining the highest return on investment in our financial undertakings.

How much money do we have to earn to be satisfied? The implied answer is embedded in the idea that wealth and fame should be the indicators of success is "more the better."

The singleminded promotion of such values and thinking in the media has led many people to worry about money, success and jobs. We have to make more money so we can live in a bigger house, buy better-known brand name products and accumulate more wealth.

You don't understand English? You're not competitive. You don't understand the new technology? You're not keeping up with the times. You don't understand investment and financial management? Your retirement is going up in smoke.

Competitiveness is a permanent source of worry, but ignores the fact that happiness and competition are two different issues. Maybe higher competitiveness only leads to more unhappiness.

The British salary-satisfaction survey shows that salary-earners appreciate opportunities to spend time with family and friends, and that this is more important than salary. People with low salaries prefer to be able to get off work on time, take jobs with less responsibility and stress, and to lead richer lives. The media should emphasize this, expose the myths surrounding economic growth and professional success, and recognize that "low salary means happiness."

Jason Yeh is an assistant professor in the department of finance at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Translated by Perry Svensson

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