Most South Africans need only R10 million to R100 million to be happy, new study says

Business Insider SA

  • South Africans don't think they need a trillion rand in order to be happy, a new study suggests.
  • Unlike Americans.
  • Asked how much they would need to win in the lottery to live their absolutely ideal lives, most South Africans came in at between R10 million and R100 million.
  • Some people seem to have unlimited wants, the study found, including some South Africans. Just not everybody.
  • For more stories go to

What would it take to live your absolutely ideal life?

If you are an American, the answer is pretty clear, a new study on "unlimited wants" shows: a trillion rand.

But given the option of winning that amount of money, most South Africans were not interested, choosing to forgo a potential R1 trillion payout in favour of something between R10 million and R100 million. That relatively paltry sum, it seems, is all they think they'll need to be happy.

It is a common assumption that people always want more, say the UK authors of the study "Evidence from 33 countries challenges the assumption of unlimited wants", published in Nature Sustainability. But for most people, including the majority of South Africans, that appears not to be true, and "opportunities for promoting sustainability will be missed if academics and others making and influencing policy erroneously believe that we all have insatiable wants".

The study relied on two surveys of some 8,000 people in countries as diverse as Argentina, India, and Sweden. They were asked to put themselves into a no-limits kind of mindset. 

"Please think about what your absolutely ideal life would be like," one survey urged. "You do not need to be concerned about whether or not you can realistically achieve this. We want you to consider how much money you would want in your absolutely ideal life."

With that in mind, they were given a set of lotteries to enter, each with identical odds of winning. In other words entering the lottery for R1 million would provide the same chance of winning the money as would entering the lottery for R1 trillion.

In every country, the currency was converted to a nice round local number, so that while Americans could top out at $100 billion, the equivalent of more than R1.5 trillion, the rand numbers were based on a multiplier of ten. 

That left South Africans with options for a R100,000 lottery, a R1 million lottery, a R10 million lottery, a R100 million lottery, a R1 billion lottery, a R10 billion lottery, a R100 billion lottery, and a R1 trillion lottery.

In every country a fairly substantial number of people jumped to the top end of the scale, going for the R1 trillion or $100 billion prize. But only in America was that the most common response. In South Africa, the most typical response was to go for R10 million, and the median was at R100 million. 

For reasons not entirely clear, a handful of South Africans said they would prefer to win R100,000 or R1 million rather than the bigger numbers, about the same number of people as in Australia. The number of people seemingly disinterested in wealth entire was slightly higher than that in Europe and Asia.

The study split people into two groups, those with a seemingly unlimited appetite for wealth and the life it can buy, and those with more modest needs.

"Limited and unlimited wealth ideals were not related to country differences in economic development, but those with unlimited wants tended to be younger, city-dwelling people who valued power, success and independence, and lived in countries with a greater collective focus and acceptance of power differences," said the authors. 

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