How much do you worry about your existence? Would you take $1,200 a month if the government gave it to you for free? What about $1,400? It’s not a loan, you don’t have to do anything, and it’s up to you what you do with the pay. There’s no catch. It’s a German study that tracks how little it takes you to be happier, healthier, and more adaptable to change. After all, everyone is afraid of it.

The only reason you want money is to feel secure. By his nature, a man wants consistency and stability. Money gives you a buffer when times are hard. It enables you to get things more easily and quickly. It is a cocoon of the good life that protects you from changes because nothing lasts forever.

Not even capitalism, if you ask Michael Bohmeyer. This 36-year-old was born in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. His parents were intellectuals but didn’t have much, so they made a lot of things themselves. Watching them, Michael learned how to be resourceful. Later they became entrepreneurs and their son accepted the new philosophy. When he spent some time studying in the US, the “just do it” spirit rubbed off on him. But he never forgot his childhood: Socialism failed, so he believes capitalism can collapse as well.

This is why he decided to test the idea of the universal basic income. Germans have been talking about it since the 1970s. Michael wanted to see for himself if this minimum amount helps you accept the uncertainty of life. And he tested the idea.

Michael Lived Off Basic Income Himself

After college, Bohmeyer was pretty successful with his online business. But at 29, he wanted to do something else. He got out of biz and kept receiving the monthly profit of €1,000 (around $1,200). It was enough to cover his rent, utilities, food, and health insurance. How was he going to live with such a small amount and without work?

Pretty well. Now he had more time for himself. He started reading philosopher Michel Foucault and asked himself existential questions: Who am I? What do I want? What is a good life for me? He realized how privileged he was to have time to think about these subjects at all. And he recognized he didn’t want to chase money forever. He was having the most exciting time of his life and wanted to continue that way. In his 2014 interview to German portal The Local, Michael said:

“Having time is more important than having money.”

While he was living on his monthly profit only, he noticed some other changes as well: He didn’t have the urge to spend money anymore. The relationship with his partner improved. He had more patience for his 2-year-old daughter. His chronic stomach cramps were gone! Michael felt refreshed. Now he was wondering: Would this kind of switch make everyone feel better if they were in his shoes?

And so a new idea for his business was born. Let’s see if other people could find calm with a fraction of an average salary. Would this make them feel more secure?

Bohmeyer Started the Initiative of Basic Income

He launched a website “My Basic Income” to test his idea: How do other people feel if they don’t worry about their existence? He called out for donations and through crowdfunding raised €8 million over 6 years! He was even more surprised when he realized that about 140,000 people wanted to see if the idea of basic income could work.

The project was endorsed even by Götz Werner, the owner of dm, the biggest drug store chain in Europe. Werner promoted this idea wherever he appeared. He stated that those who wanted more money could continue to work. Those who found €1,200 enough could pursue their passions and creativity.

Michael randomly chose 650 people from different backgrounds, including a homeless man and a hotel heiress. He gave each €1,000 (or $1,200) for the next 12 months, which is above the poverty line in Germany. At the end of the period, he traveled through the country and interviewed 24 people on the basic income. No one frittered the money away. Few people quit their jobs. Practically everyone invested in education. Or they sustained themselves after quitting an exploitative job until they found a new one. All the interviewees reported better well-being. Bohmeyer calls this state “the basic income feeling”.

Among the respondents was Judith Philipp, a freelance costume designer from Berlin. When the pandemic started, she lost a considerable amount of work. Since the schools were closed, she was taking care of her 4-year-old daughter all the time. But Judith didn’t panic because she couldn’t work. She used the money for their quality time instead of looking for a new job.

It was obvious. The amount that covered just people’s basic needs was enough to give them peace of mind, make their relationships stronger, and decrease their fears about the future. They felt better overall.

And science has confirmed this experiment.

Basic Income Impacts Your Wellbeing

This should come as no surprise. In her piece How Can You Get Financially Secure If You’re Depressed? Ciara McLaren stresses the connection between financial insecurity in capitalism and mental health problems:

“In a capitalistic society, financial security is a literal term. People without an emergency fund face the possibility of losing access to food, shelter, and healthcare. Over time, the stress that results from not having that security takes its toll on mental health.”

What if we look at it the other way? Can basic income improve your mental health in case you suffer from common mental illnesses?

Absolutely. A study shows that a financial contribution drastically improves how people with mental conditions feel. A group of 100 individuals with depression and anxiety got a certain amount of money for 9 months in a row. During that time, the control group received only treatment. Scientists assessed the individuals both before the start and after 7 months of contributions. The conclusion of the study proves the theory of basic income.

A basic living stipend protects your wellbeing and even speeds up the treatment of common mental disorders. People in the financially aided group showed a remarkable improvement. How they saw themselves and their relationships improved as well. Scientists concluded that the focus on social problems should become a part of treatment for people with common mental illnesses. In other words, help people by giving them some money, and they will get out of anxiety and depression more quickly.

But that’s not all.

Basic Income Solves Debt, Shame, and High Suicide Rate

Another study indicates that those who are in debt feel shame about their financial situation. Humiliation plus financial trouble often equals a troubled mind. The result of the study shows 46% of people who owe money also have a mental health problem.

It seems like one thing leads to another in a never-ending loop. For 72% of the interviewees, their poor mental health made their financial problems worse. On the other hand, 86% of them said the lack of money worsened their wellbeing. On top of that, debt postponed the start of their treatment because they didn’t have money for it. Also, it took them longer to recover.

Such situations often culminate with serious consequences. According to the same study, those who owe money are three times likely to think about suicide. Speaking of England, that means that over 100,000 people a year attempt suicide because of debt.

On top of everything, a lot of people are afraid others will see them as “crazy” or “spoilt”. Due to the social stigma around mental health problems, many of those who need help don’t discuss their psychological condition with anyone. This makes things even worse. They don’t even know what they are experiencing. The result of this is that 36% of people who have a disorder such as depression or anxiety never get a diagnosis or look for help. How many of them will be able to come out of it?

With his experiment, Michael Bohmeyer has found a way out of debt and shame. But that’s not all.

After Bohmeyer’s Study, the Idea of Basic Income Became Even More Popular

Bohmeyer notes that unconditional basic income gives courage to the less privileged. Its core message is:

“We are all equally worthy of existing.”

After the experiment, he published a book with its results called What Would You Do? How an Unconditional Basic Income Changes Us. It became a best-seller and he turned into a “celebrity”. You could often see him on TV, talking to politicians and other influential people.

But that was not the end. His experiment inspired another analysis. Now Bohmeyer is collaborating with the German Institute for Economic Research in a new study. This time they will give €1,200 ($1,430) a month to 120 random people for three years. Again, for the sake of comparison, there will be another control group of 1,380 “statistical twins” — people with similar lifestyles as their counterparts. They announced the study in August 2020 and a million people applied to take part in it.

The Institute won’t deal with the possible inflation as a result of free income for everybody. It will only monitor how the participants feel and if they have changed their behavior.

The future looks bright. Professor Olli E. Kangas helped a similar experiment in Finland from 2017 to 2018. Now he is very enthusiastic about this German pilot project. It seems rich settled societies are starting to think of their citizens as people with optimal needs, not only as of the workforce.

Conclusion:

“If you’re asking yourself whether you’re crazy, the answer is: No, you are not.” — Unknown

We are still trying to solve the problems of anxiety and depression in the wrong way. Tons of money is spent on “Mental days” and “recuperation”. How come millions of people still suffer from mental illnesses nowadays? It’s more than our greater awareness.

Companies pay for mindfulness courses where people mostly learn just to swallow their negative feelings. We get up at 5 because the day is not long enough. We do yoga as if we were in a Himalayan retreat and then rush to work to hit the targets. Not quite congruent, is it?

Mere acceptance isn’t the remedy for the problem. These solutions are just colorful band-aids. To feel good enough, we all need to make a mental shift:

  • Don’t blame yourself for your bad mental health if you can’t make ends meet. You often have great expectations of yourself when you are at mercy from things you can’t control. You constantly run after money to sustain a solid life. But you’d feel more secure if you could bridge a few months without fear of the future.
  • For wellbeing, you need less money than you think. In Germany, people have reached contentment with $1,200 a month. As Bohmeyer proved, we should strive for optimal living, not luxury. Because if you keep looking for more, the limit of what’s enough keeps moving further away.
  • Living from paycheck to paycheck doesn’t provide a buffer for future changes. A rainy day fund softens a blow. You never know what the future holds. Save up something every month so the changes don’t overwhelm you.
  • People obviously know how to use free money. The more secure you feel, the more you plan, and the less you spend on consumer products.
  • A slower life with fewer productivity hacks leads to stronger relationships and more contentment. When life slows down, even your health improves. And so do your relationships. You become a more tolerant person.
  • You live peacefully if your basic needs are met. And your wellbeing drastically improves. You are not crazy; the system is brutal.
  • Financial aid should be a part of help for people who suffer from mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.

Let’s not blame ourselves for things we can’t influence. We are calmer and much happier when our lives don’t depend on a single paycheck. And there has to be a social model that can enable everyone to live a decent life without constant anxiety. It’s on our countries to find out how. There is enough money for this. The problem is its distribution.