I did a brief radio interview on BBC Radio Birmingham yesterday. It was about the couple who won £161 million on the Euro lottery, and had to go into hiding from all the begging letters.
The presenter, Tammy Gooding, asked me about whether that was typical, whether people winning huge amounts of money were no happier, perhaps even more miserable, as a consequence of the win.
We had some great calls in, with some people whom, I think, would actually be very happy with a win. In fact, the switchboard lit up with comments, and the common features of them echoed the best psychological advice on being happy.
If you don’t know what you want, you’re likely to get things you don’t want.
The wise thing to do (which a lot of callers had done) is to decide what you want to do with your life, what experiences you want, what causes you support etc. Maybe you do voluntary work with youth groups or the elderly, maybe you give a bit to charities that you believe in to help those in need or to cure diseases that have emotional impact for you. How great would it be to be able to do that full time, and to be able to fund projects yourself?
But most people don’t do that. They are influenced in what they think they want by what their family friends and neighbours have, what they see in Hello magazine a celebrity likes, what it seems from the media they are expected to want.
Consequently, many of us go through life chasing material things that have no real value to us or the life we’d like to lead and that, if we get them, would be quite empty and leave us wanting more. For example, we get the car, then want the yacht, the bigger house, our own island, an art collection – all the time competing with other people to have more “things” that we don’t really care about.
Which is why many lottery or pools winners (like our couple in hiding) are happy to start with but don’t stay happy. They get lots of money, buy lots of things, and never stop to think about what they really value.
The ones who stay happy are the ones who buy what they really want, perhaps they increase their voluntary work because they can now do it full time and fund projects personally, they help friends put their children through school, they support charities in a big way. Sure, they may buy the bigger house, but it’s the house they actually want, not the one that a magazine or a TV “celebrity” says they ought to have because they’re now a millionaire.
They have a full life and spend their time and money on activities that they value, achieving things that have meaning for them. And that is what makes us happy in the long run, not things, but activity that we feel is important.
That applies however much (or little) money we have. And of course, the more money we have, the more opportunity we may have to achieve things that we think are useful and valuable.