As a poll reveals that many high earners have problems at home, Alex Holder asks how much money really equals happiness.
Chances are the person driving that sleek, blacked-out Range Rover is in an unhappy marriage. In all probability, the person sipping champagne in Business Class is considering separating from their partner.
While society perpetuates the idea that rich people are happy people - that those sat at the front of the plane or the head of the boardroom have perfect lives - a recent survey of 500 'high fliers' found that more than two thirds of those earning £100k ($200,000) and over confessed to having "significant" problems in their private relationships. In comparison, only 20 per cent of the general population admit to similar issues with their partner.
Out of those top earners surveyed - many of whom are business owners, board members and managing directors - 46 per cent blamed long work hours for their romantic troubles. We've all seen the studies. And we know that our health and relationships matter more to our wellbeing than our earnings.
Yet most of us would find it difficult to say no to a pay rise, even when it's offered in tandem with a more stressful position that will inevitably keep us in the office for longer. We still think more money will make us happier, and don't stop to consider what the pursuit of money could cost us: the late nights, the time away from family, the anxiety that comes with responsibility, and never having time to book a doctors appointment or schedule a date night.
So what are the happiest people earning? Is there a salary sweet spot?
Every year, the Office for National Statistics studies 200,000 British people with the aim of answering the question: 'What matters most to our life satisfaction?' While their most recent study found that earning less than £400 ($795) per week increases the chances of being in the most miserable one per cent, they also found that once your basic needs and wants have been met, more money doesn't necessarily make you any happier. In fact, it can have the opposite effect.
Paul Dolan, a professor of behavioural science and author of Happy Ever After, says that peak happiness can be found between £40-£59k ($80-$117k) per year - after that it begins a downward trajectory.
So why aren't high salaries having a positive trickle down affect on the rest of our lives - especially our relationships?
Take a moment to picture the richest person you know: are they sunning themselves by a pool or sat at a desk? Are they chilled or stressed? Do they see their family and friends much? How often do they just go for a stroll?
It used to be thought that money was the gateway to a life of leisure, but that's no longer the case - elite men in the US now work longer hours than poorer ones. Simply, the pleasures that come from earning loads of money are often depleted by the process of earning it; rich people are essentially finding their happiness in negative equity.
I recently spoke to a 40-year-old man in the middle of divorcing his high-earning, career topping wife. When I asked why they were separating, he said that her long hours in the office had meant, "she never saved a smile for me."
Little wonder. The moment we get a pay rise is the moment many of us are offered more debt. People cite money as freedom, but when a salary is sustaining a mortgage it can become more trapping than freeing. Recent research conducted by YouGov and First Direct, looking at the impact of wealth on our overall wellbeing, found that financial worries don't discriminate - anxiety over cashflow affects 48 per cent of UK adults irrespective of income, with 32 per cent of people struggling to sleep at night because they have money on their minds. And if there's anything guaranteed to impact your personal relationships, it's exhaustion.
So how can we balance earning enough to give us security and some pleasures in life without inviting in the problems of earning too much - like guilt because you never put your children to bed? Or the kind of stress that can really tear couples apart - especially if one half feels more burdened than the other when it comes to domestic life?
The first step is understanding the concept of 'enough'. Helen Russell, author of The Atlas of Happiness - a study of how different nations achieve bliss - says that other countries might be better at this than we Brits.
"The Swedes have 'lagom' - the idea of 'just enough' that applies to life, work and pretty much everything, so earning more money is less of a priority for them than living a good life," she explains. "The Danes have 'arbejdsglæde' – from 'arbejde' the Danish for 'work' and 'glæde' from the word for 'happiness'. It literally means 'happiness at work'; something that's hugely important in Denmark and means that a decent work-life balance is prioritised over a big pay cheque."
What we should take from this is that happiness isn't all about success, achievement and material things, but is found in contentment and peace…and a happy home life. In our society, things that aren't monetised are often underrated: pottering about, tidying up, spending time with children, or grandchildren, making someone you love a cup-of-tea, calling your parents. Spoiling yourself isn't always about putting your credit card down, sometimes it's about having time to water the plants or make a delicious cup of coffee at home.
"When I earned six figures I would constantly buy new clothes because I didn't have time to wash the ones I had. I would take cabs everywhere and never had time to cook," says a former advertising executive, who quit to spend more time at home. "Now that I earn less I can't afford to get a taxi or take-away every night, but I've realised that cooking and walking and living at a slower pace actually make me happy."
Also key is not buying into the cult of comparison. We no longer just measure our affluence by pitting our lives against those of our friends, now we compare ourselves with celebrities living in the Hollywood hills.
Of course, it's nice work if you can get it. Earning £50k ($100k) - the apparent salary sweet spot - puts you around the 90th percentile of UK earners. As Professor Paul Dolan points out, "for the vast majority of the population, earning more money should alleviate misery. This is an important point that is often overlooked by relatively wealthy academics and commentators who say more money doesn't matter."
Ain't that the truth? Acknowledging the results of these studies isn't about rejecting of money and the power it has to transform our lives. Perhaps the real takeway is this: it's not 'healthy salary' if it comes at the expense of your health.