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The simple life is a richer one

Does owning a private jet or luxury yacht make one happier than a simple meal with people you love?

- By MARY EU

FINANCIAL problems are sheer misery. As JK Rowling put it: “Poverty is romanticis­ed only by fools.”

We all need money to live. But wealth is subjective, not absolute. You can be happy with a little money as long as your basic needs are met.

I remember going shopping with hardly RM50 in my purse. It was the 1970s and Globe Silk Store on Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, Kuala Lumpur, was the place to go for affordable new clothes. I managed to buy a skirt and a long-sleeved T-shirt, and I carried my bag of glory all the way back to the college hostel by bus.

Luxury is a heavily laden word, and to a homemaker in the 1960s, it meant a trip to town with her innocent brood. Whenever my mother had some money left over from careful housekeepi­ng, she would take my elder sister, brother and me for a spot of shopping. Not only was the little trip a break from routine, it sparked joy in the mostly mundane life of a homemaker.

Does owning a private jet or luxury yacht make one happier than a simple meal with people you love? Is the happiness index of a safari vacation higher than a homemaker’s simple jaunt to town with her kids? I wonder.

According to American economist Prof Richard Easterlin, “Once basic needs have been met, any incrementa­l financial gain contribute­s nothing to happiness”.

I grew up knowing the cadences of sharing, mending and saving. But there was always food on the table and I slept safely at night, knowing that I was loved and cherished.

My father was the sole breadwinne­r. Once a month, he treated the family to the cinema, and we could choose our snacks sold at the brightly lit makeshift stalls outside the cinema. We normally sat in the third class seats which cost 65 sen per ticket then. But once in a while, Papa would splurge on second class seats which cost RM1.40 per ticket. Such times my young self felt a glow of well-being.

So! Wealth is relative. Growing up, I never thought we were poor. My mother was always at home when I came home from school. My father loved me to bits. At school, my teachers taught us diligently and instilled in us the importance of courtesy, respect and integrity. We were serious about upholding our school motto: “Live Worthily”.

King Solomon with all his wealth, influence and numerous concubines, had his days of frustratio­n, emptiness and feelings of futility. In the book of Ecclesiast­es, he observed: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”

The upshot? Money is good in the hand but bad in the heart. We should not be obsessed by money as it is “a grasping after the wind”.

It is wise to live modestly even if you are disgusting­ly rich. The millionair­es in Yong Peng, Johor, where I live, know the art of living modestly and to keep a low profile. It is common to see a millionair­e here riding a rickety motorbike along the village road, clothed in a simple T-shirt and shorts. If you were rich beyond a million, it is even more impressive not to show off your wealth.

On the other hand, if you could very well afford something that would improve your quality of life, it is only prudent that you spend your money rather than hoard it. Those who are rich but live a miserly lifestyle, of scrimping and staying ungenerous, are what I call the “Poor rich”.

The unadorned truth is that money can make one happy. If you chanced upon a RM10 note on the road, picking it up could make your day. No?

On my birthday, my practical significan­t other always gives me an ang pow of indetermin­ate thickness. And who says romance is dead? Because, that, to me, is the height of romance.

On a final note, once you are living above the poverty line and have some money saved up as a financial safety net, you should focus on other factors that can contribute to a happy life. For me, it is something as simple as an uninterrup­ted power nap that allows me to wake up feeling refreshed, recharged and rejuvenate­d.

Have something you feel strongly about? Get on your soapbox and preach to us at lifestyle@thestar.com.my so that we can share it with the world. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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