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Don’t worry, be happy

  • By Sue Whitbread

Richard Harvey takes a practical look at generating income, as he argues that it’s not how much we receive but what we do with it that really counts

There’s a corny sign hanging on my office wall bearing that sage West Indian advice: “Don’t worry, be happy”. And there’s another in the kitchen: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain”.

They are precisely the sort of folksy slogans which irritate or amuse people in equal measure, depending on their mood at the time.

The Timpson way

However, both sayings came to my mind recently when I read a piece about John Timpson, the boss of the shoe-repair business.

Here’s a 74-year-old guy who grew a business, initially based on soles, heels and key cutting (which you wouldn’t have thought was an easy way to get rich) and has now expanded into a nationwide chain selling everything from dry cleaning to Zippo lighters, house signs to sports trophies.

What is particularly interesting about John (now Sir John) is that he has developed an employment philosophy which is regularly highlighted in surveys of the Best Places to Work. His belief is that if you treat people right, then the business will look after itself.

He has carried those values through into his private life. Together with his late wife Alex, they fostered 90 children, and he has set up a Trust in her name to train teachers to understand young people with the difficult-to-manage condition of attachment disorder.

And then there’s the fun stuff. Sir John still has a stable of racehorses, a hobby on which he cheerfully confesses to losing about £15,000 a year, and his advice to people – like me – of a certain vintage is: “Keep busy – every time you get invited to a social function, say yes”.

It’s apparent that despite his business success, Sir John is not over-exercised about money. And while it would be easy to say: “Well, he’s sufficiently well off never to have to worry about mortgage payments/ gas and electricity bills/food shopping and all the stuff that worries most people”, it would be missing an essential point.

According to research findings, roughly £4,000 a month will make you a happy bunny, fully satisfied with life. And that’s per person, not per couple

Back to basics

And that is – how much money do you really need to make you happy? Well, according to an article in January’s Nature magazine, and based on US university research findings, roughly £4,000 a month will make you a happy bunny, fully satisfied with life. And that’s per person, not per couple.

Really? Given that the average UK salary is in the region of £2,200 a month, and the average pension is well south of that, the prognosis would appear to be “Buddy, Can You Spare A Dime?” rather than “We’re In The Money”.

Sure, there are some 900,000 people in the UK who can look forward to amassing a pension pot around the Magic Million mark, and should therefore cheerfully be able to contemplate a well-padded income in retirement.

However, I suspect Sir John would advise that it is not how much income you receive, but what you do with it that truly counts (albeit that he may be rather happier dropping a bundle on the horses than the rest of us).

An example to us all

By contrast, I recently met up with a lady in her 80s who has endured more of life’s vicissitudes than anyone else I know. She lives in a tiny rented cottage with her retired husband, relies entirely on the State Pension – and is as happy as the proverbial Larry.

She practices yoga, tai chi and meditation, none of which are a significant drain on her extremely limited income. And, for the past 40 years, has never had a doctor’s appointment.

Both she and Sir John clearly benefit enormously through adopting a positive attitude to life.

And that is the sort of fortune that the biggest pension pot in the world can’t buy.

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