The Beatles sang “money can’t buy me love” and hit the top of the charts in 1964. Thirty-five years later, Paul McCartney had admitted to an interviewer that it should have read “can buy me love”. The world awaits a similar correction from Richard Branson, who is being pilloried for blogging: “I truly believe that ‘stuff’ really does not bring happiness.” The lightning conductors for joy, he declares, are “family, friends, good health and the satisfaction that comes from making a positive difference.” It is a statement guaranteed to irritate people who are short on some of these attributes, and short on money, too.
Such pious homilies are generally deployed by religions and cults, to prevent the flock from feeling totally cheated by life. But to be fair, Branson is not suggesting that we must be glad in rags. He has been offering free happiness advice for a while, and has generally said that money is not a valid metric for success. He inverts traditional logic to suggest that happiness is the springboard for finding success and making money, and that nothing can be achieved without a sense of fun.
For a nation that once controlled half the world, the English are surprisingly fascinated by money, and the lack thereof. British reality TV programming generally has something running on the theme. The most recent show is Rich House, Poor House, in which economically unlike people swap homes for a while. The best-known is Famous, Rich and Homeless, where the prosperous rough it out. The idea is to highlight what the poor are deprived of, but these programmes invite the charge of being patronising. Which is exactly the charge that Branson has attracted, by devaluing the importance of money while swimming in the “stuff”.