One more of my old 1992-93 writings. This was written on 22 April 1993. I notice that this is the first time perhaps when I expressed a thought about leaving India. But it was highly undeveloped at that stage. And remember, all this is purely draft writing; totally unedited.
HOW MUCH MONEY IS NECESSARY FOR A MAN TO BE HAPPY?
A perennial question, faced by each man, and each society, at some point of time or the other, is:
How much of money is necessary for a man to be happy?
* When I was a child and had little use of money, perhaps a very little was enough. I remember being given a tiny amount of money by my parents to go and buy some small things from a nearby petty shop, and believe me, was I pleased!
* When I was a young lad all I could think of buying with money was books. You give me money and I bought books – that too, not first hand, but second hand! Trying to buy as many good books as the money would possibly buy. In my liberal moods I bought some paint brushes and painting materials. Not for me fancy clothes which I felt were for the frivolous, and not for me the fancy mobikes which I felt could easily be substituted by a cheap moped.
* Then I got into service and found that I had plenty of money compared to what I had had earlier. I spent it on buying a second-hand camera, and collected various things for my parents as gifts. For myself, I was quite content without any major gadget, including a tape recorder. I had nothing worth mentioning for nearly two years after getting into service. I think I was happy.
* After marriage, I was quite happy to buy cheap household goods, including a cheap electric iron (which worked well for a good many years), and a fridge, some furniture, a small tape recorder, etc. I felt that this was enough. My needs were fulfilled.
* Now, ten years after entering service, I have (in India), a car, a plot of land, a fridge, a computer PC/XT, and so on. The black and white TV we had fulfilled my needs. In Australia I have a mini stereo system, two more computers, one printer, a VCR, a colour TV (mostly second hand goods), and so on. I also have spare money to take back to India.
But am I happy?
I think it is a mixed question. I am possibly happy, but also to some extent made unhappy when something goes wrong, when I lose some money.
I find that I need some MORE money: to buy more things, to get a better plot of land, to finally build a good house, to have enough money to travel, and so on, and so on.
The problem as I see it is has to do with what your peers have.
As a child, I was quite happy with what I had, because this is what an average child could expect to have. This psychology applied to me at all stages.
It was not what I had per se that gave me or gives me pleasure, but what I have in relation to what others have of my age group.
Even today I do not compare myself (as far as land and house is concerned) with what a retired person will have – he has worked more than me, he has greater savings, and so on. I do not compare myself with that. But I know now, surely, that when I am retired, I will compare myself with what others have.
When I was in India, having a really inferior computer (a PC/XT is actually the most inferior kind of computer) gave me occasions to feel proud and satisfied. While others had a VCR and colour TV, I had a computer.
But in Australia, I feel that I have very little. Even an average student here has a 386 or better machine, and uses laser printer for his assignments. The cost of new TVs/ VCRs is high enough to deter me from buying them, but I know that there is a fantastic range of equipment which people of my age are able to afford here. And people have their own houses – and beautiful ones – by my age, and wow! what lovely cars. And so on.
Hence, the maximum amount of relative unhappiness I have experienced about money was in Australia. My desires grew as I scanned the markets, my despondency grew as I knew that I would never have so many things which an average person of my age would have in this developed country.
In the midst of such despondency, I have felt the (perhaps natural) urge to leave India and go and settle abroad in a better country.
I have grievances against Indian politicians, bureaucrats and the society. I know that they have made a mess of so many things that we have been left behind badly in the race for material things.
In such a situation, I seek an honest answer to this:
Will an average Indian be happier with a well-planned environment and a higher standard of living (with the ability to buy the best goods that the world has to offer), or is he happier now?
The fact that I would was happy enough in India can be attributed to the fact that I am a member of the “prestigious” IAS, an elite service. I have also the satisfaction of owning some of the things which an average Indian can hope to own at my age.
But I do know of the despondency which assaults my mind when I go the the markets in New Delhi. There too are a wide assortment of goods with such high prices which I know I shall never be able to afford. But I do not go often to Delhi. Perhaps I have been lucky.
I as an average human being of slighly above average potential, feel insulted when someone with relatively inferior talent (as I see it) lives at a better standard than I do. Is this what any other human being feels too? Or am I an exception?
To answer the question – how much money is enough? Well, the best answer that I can give is:
Whatever you can honestly earn. Thereafter, it is one’s business to be happy with that.
In fact, economics talks about this all the time – maximising the utility function of a consumer: go to the highest indifference curve which touches your budget line, i.e., maximise your happiness within your constraints.