Working in lady mag land, I sometimes worry that I perpetuate the notion that happiness can be achieved through the purchasing of goods and services: clothes, accessories, beauty treatments, knick knacks for the purposes of creating an attractive living space.
Not because of the substance of anything I write through those magazines, but through my very existence as a lady mag writer.
Some months ago, a friend/colleague at one of said magazines asked me to fill out a survey for one of those features where they profile lady mag type people and their favourite hairdressers/manicurists/masseuses/facialists/spray tanners/extremely hip clothing stores and so on, in an aspirational kind of way.
I had to write back and say that I didn’t actually have a manicurist, masseuse, facialist or spray tanner, but I could send through my favourite art galleries, theatres, roller discos and so on. Not because I am completely free of vanity, but because as a lady mag writer, I don’t actually earn enough to pay for all those services. And because, even if I did, I wouldn’t drop hundreds of dollars or pounds per month on beauty treatments.
So, I wanted to back Sarah up and say that neither your happiness nor your ability to lead an interesting, fun life is contingent on your ability to make and spend shitloads of money.
I remember back when I was living in Australia, sitting across the table at dinner from lawyer who bragged he didn’t go to work for less than $5000 a day. And I remember thinking how sad it was that despite the fact that he earned considerably more than I did, his life was not discernably better than mine was. What was the point of all that extra money, I wondered?
Similarly, moving to London and going from a staffer job to full-time freelance meant taking a 60-75% pay cut. I’m pretty sure I earn less than pretty much everyone I know… and that includes those who complain they don’t earn very much. But happiness wise, London and freelancing beats Sydney and staffing hands down - and my current lifestyle is unquestionably more fun, interesting and, yes, “glamorous” than my old one.
Part of the reason people like Sarah and I are able to do this is because we have a swatche of social and cultural capital to draw upon, even if we don’t have much in the way of money. But I do think that a lot of people - in particular people who grew up in very comfortable, upper-middle-class households, the kind of people who bemoan the idea of academics “only” earning $70,000 per year, or think that it’s tough to “get by” on a combined family income of $200,000 - severely overestimate the amount of money they need to earn in order to lead a “nice life”.
As Sarah writes, ”you probably need less than you think you do.”