I I hadn’t intended to start my Friday morning with a quick Google search for new cars. I can’t afford to buy one myself. But having plunged down that unexpected rabbit hole, I was at least able to confirm my hunch that Joe Thwaite, who with his wife, Jess, has just won £184million in the National Lottery, could – and no doubt will. – do much better than the Skoda Superb Estate when it comes to upgrading its battered Hyundai.
According to Which car?, if space is a luxury, the Superb is indeed one of the most luxurious vehicles in the world. However, size isn’t everything. Road roar could be a problem. The Thwaites, newly freed from the need for a budget, as well as the scorn of any Alan Partridge types they might know, should seriously consider “a German or Swedish premium badge”.
More than half a century has passed since Viv ‘spend, spend, spend’ Nicholson and her husband, Keith, won (and immediately began losing) the equivalent of over £3million in today’s cash on football pools – and yet our fascination with those who get rich overnight through a ridiculous, ridiculous fluke, remains more or less intact.
Even stranger, perhaps, we continue to cling to the belief that nothing good can come from such financial flashes. You can’t buy happiness, you tell yourself, even thinking about the most miserable couple you know, united only by the punitive cost of separation. In my diary, a photo of Jess and Joe Thwaites spraying a compulsory bottle of champagne on all guest photographers is accompanied by a useful list of some of the miserable disasters which, since the National Lottery’s inception in 1994, have struck its most big winners. Suffice to say that the guy whose new swimming pool was invaded by a squatter seemed to me to have done well.
But alas, the truth is that money can buy happiness – or at least it can make the possibility of it that much more likely (a broken heart is still a broken heart). Economists in this field tend to speak of the satisfaction of ‘basic needs’, which makes the correlation between income and happiness strong up to around £60,000 a year, and weaker thereafter. But more recently, the study of groups of lottery winners revealed that, freed from financial worries, they are also happier.
In 2019, two economists, Andrew J Oswald, of the University of Warwick, and Rainer Winkelmann, now at the University of Zurich, even claimed that according to their research, the more money a person makes, the greater the effect positive was pronounced. likely to have on their state of mind. What’s more, neurologists have found that those who give away some of their ill-gotten gains have increased activity in the reward areas of their brains, a fact that may help explain why some people describe philanthropy as an addiction. We focus on the old stories of Gettys recluse and drug addict, but the richest and most generous man I have ever met – I was seated next to him at a museum dinner his foundation attended regularly gave large donations – exuded a serenity so palpable that it almost seemed to be wrapped around him, like a (cashmere) shawl.
Do people spend more or less on the lottery when times are tough? We don’t know what’s going on right now, but I guess we’re spending more. During the last recession, in 2009-2010, ticket and scratch card sales increased, so the Heritage Lottery Fund was left with an extra £25m a year to give away. We dream all the more strongly that life is hard.
This cost-of-living crisis looks radically different from others, in that the link between being at work and keeping your head above water seems to be all but broken – a paradox that not only encourages fatalism, but also fantasy. . If you can work three jobs and still be on the bones of your behind, doesn’t logic – or lack thereof – dictate that a quick flutter to a corner store could free you from that crushing half-life for still ?
The struggle to pay bills and feed families is painfully real for many in this country. But the situation, in other respects, looks wildly unreal; we live in satire so clumsy and badly written that we can hardly care. The day after the Thwaites announced their victory to the world, Rishi Sunak, the man whose job is supposed to be to help those who need it most, if not fix the economy, was revealed as one of Britain’s 250 richest people (he and his wife, Akshata Murty, have a joint fortune of £730 million). Tell me: in whom do you feel most inclined to place your trust? In the EuroMillions draw, or in a man who, as if he had pocketed the jackpot himself, will spend £13,000 a year to heat the new swimming pool in his house in North Yorkshire?
Yet an old part of me still clings to the idea that – somehow! – money should be made rather than earned, and that’s why I tend to make jokes about Skoda; I want the Thwaites to be nonsensical, the better to reinforce my Puritan narrative. One thing about writing for a living is that sometimes small, unexpected sums come along: a piece, written a long time ago, is sold elsewhere; a little royalty is coming. Every time this happens in our house, my husband, sounding even more Scouse than usual, says happily, “Money for jam!” and look for the champagne.
It’s not really the case, of course – it’s not for the jam: the job was done, and generally it was a pretty low paid job – but I still feel guilty. I can not help it. I think of DH Lawrence’s underage father who, after learning how much his son had been paid for The white peacock, is supposed to have said: “Fifty pounds! And you’ve never done a single day of hard work in your life. Then again, I guess that’s what separates the vast majority of us from those who currently run the country. Fifty pounds even now is a bonus. We feel like crooks, even when we’re as honest as the day is long.