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Can Money Really Make You Happy?

By Tanya Vasunia:

Have you wondered whether money can buy you love? Or happiness? It can definitely buy you a Jacuzzi, which, after a long day at work, may bring you happiness. Unfortunately, life is not so black-and-white – and the truth about happiness is a little more complicated than lying down in a Jacuzzi. Through this piece, we hope to discuss money and finances and the role they play in an individual’s perceived happiness.

Perceived happiness can be understood in terms of subjective well-being, which is a person’s evaluation of their quality of life. A person who is very satisfied with their life will experience more positive emotions and less negative ones, and is considered to have greater subjective well-being – and hence, a greater perceived level of happiness. This idea can be understood through the case of Mrs. Shah (name changed to protect confidentiality).

Mrs. Shah is a 45-year-old homemaker who is married to a successful businessman. She has two sons, both in Ivy League colleges and a fully-staffed home in south Bombay. Mrs. Shah sought our services because lately, she has felt that while she has nothing to be upset about, she has ceased being happy – and that she should be happier than she currently is. During our sessions, we explored what it meant to be happy, and how one can acquire happiness in their lives.

Let us look at this with the aid of research.

In 2015, an article by Mark Fahey for CNBC projected that there is indeed a strong relationship between household income and emotional wellbeing. In accordance with this, multiple studies have established a statistical relationship between income and emotional well being.  Diener et al. (2002) had put forth the idea that not only does money buy happiness, happiness also buys money. When happy, we are likely to be more productive – which, in turn, will help us acquire more income, which will potentially make us happy. Thus, he attempts to demonstrate the highly inter-related and co-dependent relationship that money and happiness have.

Here is the crux though: while research definitely confirms a link between money and happiness, they don’t declare declare a causational relationship between the two. Simply put, while money and happiness may be interlinked, one is not a consequence of the other.

Just because money has a link to happiness, doesn’t mean that it will lead to happiness. (Representative image)

Other studies propose that while financial success provides you with a perceived sense of happiness, it does not have an impact on moment-to-moment feelings. In the case of Mrs. Shah, this can be viewed as such: according to her, her perceptions of happiness were rooted in monetary and materialistic living (big house, successful husband). Yet, upon being asked if these factors actually contributed in her day-to-day happiness, she would say no. Money didn’t make her happy.

The above example then begs the question: what makes one happy? Is it money, giving you the power to buy things (cars, accessories) and services? If happiness were to be dependent on these external options, it would be similar to addiction, which is concerning. Or is happiness rooted in something more internal?

When we look at consumerism, we realise that the positive feelings associated with acquiring expensive items are often short-lived. Furthermore, we would need to spend more and more money over time to get the same level of subjective happiness from material possessions. The same principle applies for praise from a loved one – if you need it to make you feel good, after a period of time, you will get desensitised and need bigger praise, at a higher frequency, to feel good.

Mrs. Shah faced these very issues – her financial status provided her with a general positive regard for life, but it played no role in her day-to-day emotional well-being. We worked with Mrs. Shah to understand what happiness meant to her, what she expected happiness to feel like, and all that she was able to do to make herself feel happy without the need of external validation.

When we think about what makes us happy, we often think about the external things – money, friends, family, etc. We rarely think about the internal landscape, because it is not easy to rely on yourself to make yourself happy. The reality is, no matter your financial or social success, your daily emotional well-being is dependent on you and your ability to regulate your emotional experiences.

While it is healthy to experience a range of emotions on a day-to-day basis, when your negative emotions start taking centre-stage, then you might need help.

By their very nature, emotions are elusive and fleeting. Investing in mental health is similar to making a long-term investment – it is a slow process, but it yields rich dividends.

The author is a psychologist at Mpower.


Featured image used for representative purposes only.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

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The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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