It takes so little to be happy. If only people knew it. Actually, more and more people do know it. That’s the happy conclusion drawn by the business magazine President (May 14) from a survey it conducted of 1067 households whose annual income ranged from 3 million to 10 million yen. Question 1: “Are you satisfied with your present income?” Yes, said one respondent in four.
True, three in four said no. Still – given the stagnation, if not downright reduction, of income that had set in even before the current coronavirus pandemic accelerated the decline, and also the fact that a quarter of Japan’s workforce works in one form or another of a part-time basis, on part-time (which is to say low) pay, it’s a remarkably positive result. It shows, perhaps, a new shift to standards of happiness other than financial. President’s headline poses a question that implies as much: “How do couples with incomes of 3 million yen a year live as though they’re earning 10 million?”
For an answer it turns to financial planner Harumi Maruyama, who offers two simple rules for being happy without being rich. Both are negative. First: stop comparing yourself to other people. Second: vanquish the ridiculous but (decreasingly) widespread notion that low income reflects low personal quality. (The succession of corruption scandals tainting the highest government and corporate echelons may even suggest the contrary.)
“The survey results indicate,” she says, “that satisfaction with life depends not on income but on your sense of being in control of your income.”
For example: A young man or woman living alone on an entry-level salary – under 3 million a year, say – often lives from paycheck to paycheck, flush and free-spending at the start of the cycle, broke and edgy toward the end of it. You reach a stage, she continues, where you say to yourself, “Time to think of a home and family.” You spend less, save more, feel richer in proportion. Also more confident. Same income, different attitude. Maybe the attitude matters more.
A 5 million yen annual income is better but not easy street. President’s survey shows 30 percent of people earning that are satisfied; 70 percent not. Why? Mostly, says Maruyama, because a higher income puts you in contact with higher earners, and the tendency is to compare yourself to those earning more than you, damning your employer, or “the system,” or your own inadequacies, real or imagined, for holding you back. Maruyama’s rule number one comes immediately to mind. Applied, it solves a lot of problems.
Saving is good, she says, but like other good things it turns bad if taken to extremes. Excessive deprivation of personal indulgence in the name of economy not only sours our outlook on life, it defeats its own purpose. Example: you don’t travel. You want to, it’d be fun, and broadening besides; the family would enjoy it – but no, it costs money, we don’t need it, forget it. What to do instead, on a Saturday when everyone’s free? Stay home and watch TV? The mall – we’ll all go to the mall; where you buy this and that and find when you get home that you’ve spent thousands, maybe tens of thousands of yen on nothing of any substance – money that could have gone toward a trip.
Some luxuries all the same are best dispensed with. People satisfied with low incomes tend to use their smartphones less than two hours a day. Another possibly needless indulgence is home ownership. Two or three generations ago, spacious family living seemed unthinkable without it. Today, with late marriages and smaller and smaller families, are its advantages worth its burden? If your income is 3 million yen a year, Maruyama advises, housing costs should not exceed 30,000 yen a month.
Is that possible? If it’s tight, think of it this way, she says: The average pensioner lives on 1.72 million yen a year. Chances are you will one day be an average pensioner. The idea takes getting used to. It’s never too soon to start preparing.© Japan Today