Can money make you happy with Gethin Nadin

Ellen Whitehead | 20th November 2020

Happiness and humans podcast


In this episode of the podcast, Matt Phelan, Founder and Chief Happiness Officer at the Happiness Index, speaks to author, influencer and generally smart human, Gethin Nadin, to get to the bottom of one of life’s biggest questions – can money make you happy? Along the way Gethin and Matt chat about travel, caring for other people, and even touch upon getting woken up by the police on a train from Budapest to Bucharest.


What makes you happy? 3:35
Are wellbeing and happiness linked? 7:58
Can money make you happy? 9:58
Do you think there is a link between happiness and company performance? 18:05

About Gethin

Gethin is a qualified MBPsS Psychologist who has worked in HR Tech for almost 20 years. He’s a frequent speaker and writer on the subjects of global employee engagement, and financial wellbeing, amongst (many) other fascinating topics. Along the way, Gethin has become a best-selling and award winning author, a leading employee engagement influencer, a podcaster, and has been published in many of your favourite titles such as The Huffington Post, The Financial Times, The Guardian and even Buzzfeed.

Gethin is an inspiring human to be around, and everything he touches is endlessly fascinating, you can check out his podcast for more info about financial wellbeing.

Listen on:

Freedom to be happy

This podcast and Gethin’s unique insight inspired sections of the new book, “Freedom to be Happy: The business case for happiness” by Matt Phelan. If you want to understand the association between individual happiness and group performance at work – then click below and get your copy!


NB: This is a Verbatim transcript. Every word on the recording has been transcribed as is, including (most) grammatical errors and false starts. However, extra details like stutters and repetitions are removed.

Matt Phelan: Welcome to season three of working with humans. In season three I’ll be interviewing all the experts, philosophers and practitioners that are featured in my book that focuses on the link between happiness and performance. I call it my book because I haven’t got a name for it yet, but hopefully you’re reading it at the moment and it does have a cool name and you like it. I’m gonna ask all my guests this season four very simple but very big questions. We’re calling this season Happiness Shorts because it’s quickfire, 20-minute interviews. 

This episode is called Can Money make you happy? My guest today is the amazing Gethin Nadin. I had to have a pre-call with Gethin to work out how to introduce him. But we’re just gonna go with reading out his LinkedIn bio, which is “employees experience and wellbeing, best selling and award winning HR author, Top 100 global employee engagement Influencer, Keynote speaker, HR guest writer, Podcaster, Cardiff, United Kingdom”. Gethin, does that do you justice?

Gethin Nadin: Yeah. Do I come into the philosopher bracket? What would I end up being under? 

Matt: It’s funny you say that because I couldn’t get you into a bracket. I had lined everyone up. And I thought you, because you love your research, you are slightly an expert. But you’re definitely a thought leader. But you’re also on the front lines. You tick all boxes, Gethin!

Gethin: I think, Yeah, it’s interesting. I think the “thought leader” trope kind of gets pulled out quite a lot. And I don’t really like it because I think I’m pretty good at finding research. I’m pretty good at finding what research people should be paying attention to and surfacing that. Like you say, I actually worked with HR people. So, unlike a lot of thought leaders in this space, who don’t actually do the work, I actually spent most days with HR people, so yeah, hopefully, I’m an expert, but I guess that’s subjective. 

Matt: And Gethin, this is a podcast so we can’t see you. But the little picture that pops up. You’ve got a baseball cap on and it’s really cool. What baseball cap is that?

Gethin: Oh, I can’t see it. 

Matt: It looks like it’s got a red B on it. 

Gethin: Yeah, I like that photograph was taken just as I got off a sleeper train between  Bucharest and Budapest after being woken up by the police twice. So not a great picture. 

Matt: We need another podcast just on that story, I think. And Gethin, I found it difficult to introduce you because I know I know you from so many different areas now and you’re working on so much stuff. Would you like to introduce yourself? 

Gethin: Yes, I think I think you’ve done a pretty good job of it. So I worked for employee experience technology business called Benefex. I kind of lead our thought leadership around employee experience and wellbeing. I guess, a big passion of mine for probably seven years now, and something we’re gonna talk about today, which is really important to me is financial wellbeing and the role that employers have got to play in helping their staff to be and remain financially healthy.

Money is a great source of people’s stress in life. It affects the job quite significantly, with little support, help elsewhere. I think the employer has got a really good opportunity to help people get better handling the money. 

Matt: Brilliant. Thanks. So this is happiness shorts, so I’m gonna jump into your four questions now, Gethin. And what makes you happy? 

Gethin: So what makes me happy? You know, I think like lots of people lockdown and the pandemic that we went through in 2020 is giving people a lot to think about when it comes to what they want from their lives.

And I guess, like so many people, I’ve realised connection to other people, although we kind of knew the evidence was there, that if you spend time with the people, friends and family, etc, that’s what really makes you happy. I think that galvanised that feeling that that actually does may me happy, and a renewed appreciation for the small things. 

But I think the stuff that really makes me happy, the things I look forward to most in life is travelling. I think when I get to travel and obviously haven’t got to do that in 2020 at all, that’s what makes me happy and having those holidays and travelling to look forward to seeing other cultures meeting people from one of the world is definitely what makes me happy 

Matt: Gethin. I’m gonna have a question that I hadn’t planned to ask you, just out of interest. Because, um, your book is about the world, really, isn’t it? And different types of people and all that kind of stuff? Is there’s that saying, “travel broadens the mind?” Do you believe in that? 

Gethin: Absolutely. So when I was writing the book and I started taking all these life lessons, workplace lessons from around the world, it came at a time when the UK was pretty divided. So, you know, we had just voted on the EU referendum. There was this kind of very strong feeling that’s grown over the years that people from different countries want different things and with all the experience I had with travelling, I just hadn’t seen that. Everywhere I’ve ever gone, I just felt like people are the same wherever you go. We’re all trying to do the same things, we’re trying to reach,you know, this level of happiness or subjective wellbeing in our lives. And I just felt like this was a really good way, and my little way of showing people that, you know, we are all the same. We’re all  facing the same challenges. Lots of these different cultures can teach us a lot, and it’s important that we learn from them. 

Matt: Again, I’m just putting another question that I hadn’t preplanned with you, Gethin. But when you did that research, was there anything you know, you said you found a lot out, so was there anything that really surprised you. Where you thought “wow, that’s that’s sort of changed the way I think”

Gethin: There is some lessons that came out of some tribes in Africa. It’s kind of in the conclusion of the book so spoiler for anyone who hasn’t read it. But basically, you know, the way those kind of tribes and communities look after people, even those ones who had done wrong in their communities was really strong. 

So, you know, they would help somebody get back on their feet. If they caught somebody stealing, for example, hit in their wife, you know, sometimes extreme crimes. The way they dealt with that was just to kind of put their arm around that person and make them feel loved and get them to kind of repent and repair for their sin, whatever they did. But at the same time, it wasn’t about kicking them in the side, or locking them up in a prison. It was about, you know, the idea that people do things bad in the world because something’s gone wrong with their lives, and actually, if you can make people happy and you kind of take people under your wing, that’s how you really kind of rid the evil and the bad in people. 

And that stayed with me for quite a long time. And I do believe that most people will react positively when you treat them positively, even if they haven’t treated you positively. 

Matt: Yeah, I suppose if you take it, if you take it away from religion, and make it spiritual, are you saying there, that nobody’s ever lost, is that the thing?

Gethin: Yeah, I think so. I think that obviously there are some kind of really extreme criminals that’re beyond help. But, you know, as the son of a man who was a prison officer for 35 years. I do believe that people can come out of that and we can change lives. And I think that the more positivity somebody has in their lives, and the opportunities they have to get better and kind of not re-offending etc. I think there are some general life lessons there for us about how we treat people and treat them with love and kindness, and that kind of good stuff. 

Matt: Yeah. And so I got down to question two, I’m really bad at this happiness shorts stuff, because I could talk about all of that stuff for so long. And, so question two, are wellbeing and happiness linked?

Gethin: Yes, I kind of mentioned it before. Scientists and psychologists refer to it as  subjective wellbeing, but we don’t know that as happiness. And that’s kind of just – how do you feel about your life? How content are you? 

And I guess for lots of people, it’s having a balance, you know, it’s having people in your life that you love and care about. It’s about lack of worry and having few concerns. It’s about, you know,  having food in your belly and a roof over your head, plays a part in that subjective wellbeing as well. 

But they’re definitely linked, You know, I would. Yeah, they’re largely the same thing. I think you can’t have one without the other, really. 

Matt: If you’re working in HR how should you be looking the two –  simple and together or do they need separate streams?  

Gethin: I think if you look at it like this, right, So you could have all the money in the world. You could be physically fit. You could kind of have a six pack, and a low BMI and all that kind of stuff sleep really well, all that kind of stuff. But you can’t have all that and then not be happy, because if you’re not happy, it means you’re not mentally well, right? So you’ve got all that stuff that’s something troubling your mind. So I think you’re gonna put all that together and it becomes difficult to separate the two out. I just feel like happiness is almost another word for wellbeing and, you know, well, being is almost a more permanent state than happiness.

I think we need to accept that happiness kind of comes and goes to things that happen and change our life and wellbeing can sometimes be more of a permanent state than happiness. 

Matt: Yeah, and yeah, I mean, we’re gonna definitely build on that in following Podcasts so I don’t want to do  too many spoilers on that subject. So the big question, and the reason I got your on, was, I heard you speak about this before Gethin, and it really opened up my ears and eyes on this subject. But can money make you happy?

Gethin: Yeah, that’s a great question. The talk that you saw me do, I absolutely loved that. I had so much, so much positive feedback because I think it’s It’s like an age-old question, right? And I think it’s money contributes the happiness when it helps us make basic needs. But the research will tell us above a certain level that more money doesn’t actually yield much more happiness. 

There’s some great research in this area, so people with a net worth of more than 10 million are significantly happier than those who have got 1 to 2 million. So all of a sudden you could see that actually having a significant amount of money can make you a little bit happier than if you just got what we would consider a significant amount. But not as significant. I guess that the relationship between money and happiness shows that money does matter for wellbeing but has diminishing returns. So, for example, the difference in happiness between people of incomes of around $50,000 to $75,000, is bigger than those people with incomes between $75,000 and $100,000. 

So typically, what you tend to find is that if you can double your income, you gain about half a point on a scale of 1 to 10 of life satisfaction. And then level that again., you get hardly anything. So up into a point it buys some kind of happiness. But that actually trails off after a relatively small amount, comparatively. 

Matt: Yeah, and Gethin you mentioned earlier about how you think it’s important for companies to understand, like financial well being and things like that. Can you just just share a little bit of your thinking behind that as well?

Gethin: Yes, so typically right across the world, people employees lose about 1.5 to anywhere up to three days off work because they’re worried about money. You know, in 2020 worrying about money was more stressful to people than their work on their relationships. It’s a big part of people’s lives, and it’s a big part of how they get stressed and why they get angry, anxious and why they lose sleep. So it naturally has an impact on their work. So kind of employers have to pay attention to because it’s affecting their work. And actually, you know, in the same way that if you have an employee that was off sick with that mental health condition or they’re off sleep with physical condition and you want to get them back to work as productive as possible, I don’t know why you wouldn’t take the same view off if they were worried about money, etcetera. 

So a lot of our lives revolve around money and it can have quite significant effect. And if effects work, then the employer, rightly or wrongly, has a role to play in that. Generally, in most developed economies, you see that trust in financial services is pretty low. Trust in financial services ranks the lowest of all the 15 major industries, and that’s been the case for quite a quite a number of years now.

But the most trusted institution in the lives of employees, for quite a few years running, has been their employer. So, all of a sudden you can see that they don’t trust banks and financial services, but they do trust their employer. So I think that’s a unique mix there to be able to create the environment whereby the employer can really have an impact on the financial lives of their employees. 

Matt: Gethin, I’ve heard you mentioned that trust element around the employer and the employee? Why do you think companies have that opportunity to have, I hate calling it special relationship, but why do you think that is? 

Gethin: I guess it is. We’re spending a lot of time at work, right? So regardless of kind of flexible working or anything like that generally most people are still probably spending anywhere between 6 to 8 hours a day working for that employer. It’s a source of income. So it’s kind of where most people understand their money. It’s where they get their money. You’ve seen lots of brands, and the employees experience has been invested in, and employee engagement has been invested in to the point where so many HR people and CEOs now realise that actually, we have a responsibility over these people.

We saw in the Corona virus outbreak. How much, actually, we really rely on our employees. And if you take someone like Apple, you know you take the iPhone away and some of that kind of primary products and what you’re left with? You’re left with a group of people that are good at selling, good at designing, can create and manufacture great products. So it’s kind of like you take the product of the service away from any employer and you’re left with people. There’s some really good examples of how many companies like Google and stuff have realised, actually, how much of your business is the people  that you’ve got. 

I guess that relationship just means that’s kind of just like any other relationship in our life. We just developed trust. You know, we’ve kind of our employers over the last 10 to 20 years of started acting a lot better than they ever have, and they start caring about was more so we’ve developed this trusting relationship between us and our employers. 

Matt: And on that, because I’ve heard you talk about CEOs and the importance of the modern era of CEO for standing for something, whatever that is, at least stand for something.

Um, when you talk about money and you talk about performance, you talk about wellbeing. You’re talking about them because they’re linked right? In terms of what you just said. But why do you think some CEOs can see the linkages between lots of different things, because it’s not just wellbeing, there’s lots of other stuff that impacts performance, and some see it in a silo. Have you got any views on that? I imagine you’re working, you do work with a few CEOs in your day job. Is there any reason why some people can see it and some people can’t? 

Gethin: Yeah, so as I mentioned at the start, so I’m a big one for kind of evidence. I love research. I love quoting research, I love reading psychological research because I like to be able to prove that if I’m saying something, there’s evidence behind it. And the evidence is compelling because otherwise it’s just theory, unless you can prove something, it’s just theory. 

You and I, we’ve spoken about this before, but there’s this great book by Ben Horowitz called “The hard thing about hard things”. This is a guy who’s built and lost companies that have generated billions of dollars, you know, huge businesses. Incredibly successful guy. And one of the conclusions in his book is actually that you know, there’s two types of CEOs. There’s one that reads and considers it work, and there’s one that doesn’t read. And I think from my experience, the CEOs that read and question and look at the research look at studies on are open to ideas, make much better CEOs.

Just like people right, some people will vote in election by reading all the manifestos and weighing all their options. Others will just use their gut and go with the one that either their parents voted for or the one that kind of shouts the loudest on the subject they’re most interested in.

And I think what we’re starting to see is more leaders, and more HR people are starting to take more of an evidence based approach. So they don’t just read something you put in front of them blindly. They will look at that view and assess, and weigh up and add their own evidence and experience to that. I think when people do that they make better CEOs because they’re using evidence and experience to guide the decision making. 

Matt: Yeah, one of the areas of evidence some people ae scared off. I’ve linked up my DNA from 23 & Me to DNA fit, which is from a well being perceptive is so fascinating because I know that I’m sensitive to caffeine. I feel anxious if I have caffeine. And it confirms in there that my DNA has a high sensitivity to caffeine, but it also tells me things like, I don’t press that process the vitamins that’s in carrots very well. Basically, drink less caffeine, eat more carrots. But actually, having that evidence there is so useful. 

And using that as a link into the link between happiness and in company performance, which is what the book looks at all the evidence on. So I’m actually asking you for an opinion now, feel free to bring evidence in, but do you think there’s a link between the happiness of the employees of a company and company performance? 

Gethin: Yeah, 100%. I think the evidence for that is so compelling. I don’t even know why we would question that. You know, it’s really easy to look on a really kind of macro, simple level. You think about any shop that you go into. If an employee isn’t happy and content and engaged in their work or with their colleagues or with their employer, their personality will not shine through in customer service. They can’t let themselves kind of perform well on that stage of customer service. So every day we see that and every day you see something on Twitter where you know, a waitress gets given a $300 tip just because she was really nice or she engaged the customers and stuff, or he engaged with customers. it’s a great experience and so we’ll see more of that because people share it.

So we can kind of see that kind of evidence that, you know, just in real life, because we’re all consumers and we can experience that. So, you know, I think retail is a really good example of how you could see that stuff in action. 

Matt: Yeah, Gethin, that’s my four questions. We’ve come in 30 seconds, under 20 minutes, so we’ve managed to achieve it! My last thing is just to say thank you so much for your time. 

Gethin: Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you. 

Matt: Thanks, Gethin, take care. 

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