Deborah Hill Cone

Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: Money can't buy you happiness - or a real life

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In a past incarnation I would have wished that I could transform my humdrum life into a glamorous jetset whirl. Photo / Thinkstock
In a past incarnation I would have wished that I could transform my humdrum life into a glamorous jetset whirl. Photo / Thinkstock

I don't know exactly when it happened. But somewhere along the line I seem to have stopped wanting to be rich. This could be a problem.

Okay, stop spinning your bow tie and clutching your pearls, I have to put in the provisos up front: I know middle-class brats like me are all rich really in comparison to people living in poverty in sub-Saharan Africa and if someone came and said I'd won Lotto, I'd be as happy as the next person to pay off my mortgage.

But I have noticed lately I no longer feel quite so "shiny-thing driven" as I used to be. I should maybe thank Tamara Mellon because it was reading about her that made me appreciate I've lost my appetite for luxury.

The wealthy founder of the Jimmy Choo brand has just written an autobiography about her "incredible" life where we can learn about her 3000 pairs of shoes, her $29,000 wedding dress and drool vicariously over her life of extravagance.

In a past incarnation I would have wished that I could transform my humdrum life into a glamorous jetset whirl, just like hers.

But possibly for the first time, I read this and thought, how deeply naff. Also: what a sad chook.

She seemed so miserable and stuffed-up, despite her Swiss finishing school and celebrity friends. She sued her own mother for $11 million and bonds with her own 11-year-old daughter Minty - yes, Minty Mellon - over expensive clothes and business interests.

Unlike Mellon, my mother was not a Chanel model, but a secular humanitarian whose best quality was that she was completely non-judgmental. My daughter and I bond over Harry Potter and her favourite item of clothing is a Minecraft T-shirt with a chewed hole in it.

It is only recently that I have come to understand this is actually good. My life, which is filled with school board meetings and swimming lessons and waterblasting my deck and cleaning my dog's ears and having cups of tea and ginger slice with my elderly father, is actually better than someone who sold her business for $200 million.

Wow! That's a neat thing to realise. Back when I was a young thrusty business journalist I would have seen Mellon as a role model and her entrepreneurialism as something to be celebrated.

I still admire people who start their own businesses (although Mellon did actually buy the original business off, guess who, Jimmy Choo). But these days, I do sometimes wonder whether the uber-wealthy are sort of just not quite there in a psychological sense - and whether we should be worried about that.

In her TED talk about the uber-rich, Chrystia Freeland says the 0.1 per cent of richest Americans account for 8 per cent of the nation's total wealth. The wealth of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett's wealth - yep, two blokes - is equivalent to the bottom 40 per cent of the US population, that is 120 million people.

Read that line again if you like: it does my head in.

I'm with Freeland: the scary future that worries me is where a couple of geniuses invent Google, or a luxury shoe brand, and the rest of us plebs give them manicures.

And even if we are living okay lives in our kennel-like apartments with flat screen TVs, we don't feel okay in comparison to the super-wealthy. People die younger in regions of great income inequality, but researchers say it's not just being poor, with reduced access to healthcare and increased stress that kills them, it's feeling poor relative to others that counts.

So here's what I think. I can't do personally much about the huge gulf between rich and poor, but I can stop giving my unthinking admiration to really rich, but often quite emotionally retarded, people.

Idolising the uber-wealthy makes our own lives seem dumb and boring in comparison, when they aren't.

I don't think Tamara Mellon's life is "incredible". I don't buy those magazines like Vogue any more. Their excess of wealth revolts me. And luxury is more than just having things.

It stops you really experiencing the intensity of reality, as one of my favourite authors Dodie Smith writes: "It makes the very air feel different. I felt different breathing that air; relaxed, lazy, still sad but with the edge taken off the sadness. It does seem to me that the climate of richness must always be a little dulling to the senses. Perhaps it takes the edge off joy as well as sorrow."

- NZ Herald

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