It turns out money can buy you at least some happiness, but you might not actually need nearly as much of it as you think.
Take it from British entrepreneur Simon Cohen, who just gave away his hugely successful public relations company because he believes that people only need £30,000 a year to be happy.
"It's not all about money," claims the 35-year-old founder of £1m-valued company Global Tolerance. Cohen says he is still a “happy man” after giving away the business he had built up for 11 years, in a rigorous competition to find the best new owners.
Noa Gafni, a digital strategist from the World Economic Forum and Rosie Warin, a PR director from Forster Communications, have been handed 95% of the company’s shares, £10,000 in cash and all of its assets.
Cohen will keep just a 5% stake and an advisory role in the company, which he could have sold and become a millionaire.
He ran an “open source” leadership contest and received 200 applications from people interested in running the company, which has 7 permanent staff and 75 consultants in 25 countries.
Why 75% of mergers and acquisitions fail
Global Tolerance calls itself “a communications agency with a conscience” and has worked for the Dalai Lama, HRH the Prince of Wales and UNESCO.
Cohen told The Huffington Post UK that he decided to give up his business rather than “sell out” in an attempt at maintaining its ethical values.
“It’s not always ‘selling out’, but in a traditional acquisition the amount that the entrepreneur can influence the values and vision of the company ... is diminished,” Cohen said.
“I think that’s why 75% of mergers and acquisitions fail.”
“The bank balances of everyone involved might bulge, but the foundations on which that brand is built falls by the wayside. Reducing the transition of a company to a single financial transaction doesn’t really do justice to the blood sweat and tears of entrepreneurs.”
How much money do you actually need?
Cohen, who also worked to promote the UN’s “day of happiness,” will now earn around £30,000 a year - the same amount he paid himself running Global Tolerance - working one day a week as a private consultant.
He says he has calculated that £30,000 a year is the ideal amount for a person to earn: “It’s the highest amount where levels of happiness and levels of earning have a direct relationship. After that, levels of happiness just plateau.
“Someone once said that happiness lies not in having what you want but in wanting what you have. And I’m a happy man. I’ve got my basic human needs met; my wife and children won’t go hungry, so why take more?"
Cohen will now spend more time with his 15-month-old daughter and his wife, who is not working and will focus on the birth of their second child in November. Cohen is writing a book on wisdom and will do some broadcasting and public speaking - as long as his family can come with him when he travels.
He lives in rented accommodation near the sea in Cornwall , which he moved to in January to save money on rent. He hopes one day to be able to buy a property, "although you already know how I feel about notions of ‘ownership’," he jokes.
He says his home is "perched on a cliff top with panoramic views of the sea. It’s blissful and we feel very lucky."
“Part of the problem that we’ve got into on the global financial scale is short-termism and addiction to profit that at the expense of so many other things.
“This attitude is stuck in the 20th century. If we’re going to learn any lessons from the global situations like climate change, the global financial situation, it should be an attitude of stewardship not ownership: of responsibility not entitlement.”
Tory Foreign Office Minister Mark Simmonds could learn a thing or two from the generous entrepreneur.
The MP yesterday quit the government because he claimed he didn’t receive enough money to house his family in London, despite earning £89,435 a year as a minister and employing his wife Lizbeth with up to £25,000 of public money.
Cohen admits that giving away a business wouldn’t work for everyone: “Lots of people have startups and their exit strategy is to get big bucks, and go out and do the same again. This isn’t going to be for them.
“However, for mission-driven entrepreneurs, those who care about sustaining the business values of their company that they have worked so hard to set up, I absolutely think this is a blueprint.”
Global Tolerance, which Cohen founded in 2003 aged 24, is currently “on sabbatical” – all of the staff are taking a year-long unpaid break to focus on other projects.
It was based on the warship HMS President in London, but will have new offices when it launches in the Autumn under its new ownership.
Cohen said of the two winners: “They’ve both showed a lot of imagination about taking the company forwards, and seeing the real vision of it, which really excited me.”
He added that he hoped the leadership competition had inspired those who hadn’t won the company: “Of those 200 people who applied I had messages from about 100, most of whom of course didn’t make it, but they were still inspired to go and start companies.”