Can money make you happy?

Tired woman surrounded by shopping bags © Thinstock

Is the desire to acquire material things – to keep up with the Joneses – creating a warped society? The columnist Camilla Cavendish thinks so.

She’d vaguely hoped, she says in The Sunday Times, that the recession might have brought about a permanent damping down of materialism, a “reassessment of what really matters”. Instead, we seem to be entering a new era “of the conspicuously pointless gift.

Take the Hermès iPad case, in calfskin and silk, retailing at £570, which I stumbled upon last week. Why would anyone buy this? The iPad already comes with a cover.”

You could save 20 people from blindness in India for that, or, if you’re feeling less worthy, take lots of friends out to dinner. And don’t get me started on the £35,000 gold-and-diamond Harrods Savelli smartphone, “a must-have accessory for muggers”, or the lizard Chloé handbag at £2,915, “an item so hideous that I wouldn’t wish it on a reptile”.

A designer friend of Cavendish’s recently came back from a trade fair at which she had gawped at a Sensory Sky shower: while you stand under a huge showerhead it “wafts aromatherapy scents around as lights change colour”.

“You know what,” fumed the friend. “Civilisation has gone far enough.” She’s right, says Cavendish. “When I look at some of these products, I think this is what happens at the end of empires. Societies degenerate. Greed blinds us to what anything is worth.”

The Times’s Carol Midgley feels much the same. Midgley was transfixed by the size of the monthly bills in the Saatchi household, as they emerged in court, and also by the way Michelle Young, the estranged wife of a property tycoon, recently declared her £20m divorce payment to be “disgraceful”.

“I spent a good ten minutes staring awestruck at that adjective like a medieval peasant looking at a yo-yo. I appreciate she felt she deserved far more and believes her husband is depriving her and her children of what’s rightfully theirs, but I can’t help feeling that anyone who is awarded £20m, flicks through their mental thesaurus and selects a word that means ‘shameful or scandalous’ to describe it has somewhat lost her sense of perspective.”

Meanwhile, another lottery-winning couple, the third in a month, have separated. You’d have to have a heart of stone, says Midgley, not to feel a little schadenfreude.

Far from delivering happiness, wealth seems as often to deliver the opposite, creating more problems than it solves. Paul Sykes, the political donor, said after he and his wife separated: “I would sooner have stayed a tyre-fitter, where I started. Money just brings a load of lumber.”

Well, it does and it doesn’t. Not everyone who has a lot of money is miserable, let’s remember, but the trap too many people fall into is believing owning expensive possessions (including houses) makes you happy. Generally this isn’t the case and it’s better to spend money, if you have it, on experiences rather than on things.

Tabloid money: Boris is just expensively educated shrubbery

• RBS – 82% owned by the taxpayer – let its customers down big time last week with a computer failure, says Paul Routledge in the Daily Mirror. “Again. The bank has also been fined £323m by the European Commission for rigging interest rates, following a similarly huge fine by US regulators. Yet RBS’s fatcat bosses are set to trouser an estimated £500m bonus bonanza. How can this be? And why does the government permit it?

“RBS… was bailed out by the taxpayer to the tune of £45bn when bosses took it to the brink of bankruptcy. The least these greedy fatcats can do by way of thanks is to forgo their ill-gotten gains.”

• “Multi-millionaire model Lily Cole has been given a taxpayer-funded grant of £200,000 to set up a new website where people make wishes and – hopefully – others fulfil them for free,” says Jane Moore in The Sun. “No doubt Lily – an ardent environmentalist and all-round do-gooder – means well, but a quick glance at the site proves that not everyone is as altruistic. ‘I wish for someone to take me in a movie,’ says someone called Fashionpixi, who is no doubt being contacted by a porn director as we speak. Someone else asks for an Xbox One for Christmas… Perhaps those of you saving up for a life-prolonging operation the NHS can’t fund because of the ‘savage cuts’ might like to post a message along the lines of: ‘I wish taxpayers’ money was put to better use than this nonsense.’”

• Boris Johnson got caught out on Nick Ferrari’s radio show, says Rod Liddle in The Sun. “Nick asked Boris a couple of intelligence questions and he got them wrong. The first was: ‘If there are three apples and I take two, how many apples do I have?’ The answer, of course, is two. Boris fell into the trap and said ‘one’. He is blonde, I suppose. Just goes to show, you could pay £30,000 a year to put a shrubbery through Eton and Oxford… but it’s still not going to beat you at chess when it comes out.”

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