On happiness, wealth and desire
Below is a request for comment from a Bon Journal reader who translated passages from a three-part article by a noted senior economist.
"Subtitle: Happiness, Wealth, Desire
"From the economic point of view, whether you are happy or not often depends on how much wealth you have and how strong your desire is. Generally we use the following proposition:
"(1) When the growth of our wealth is larger than that of our desire, our happiness increases."
"(2) When the growth of our wealth is slower than that of our desire, we feel less happy and our sufferings increase. This precisely shows the wisdom of 'contentment brings happiness.' This of course also shows: Why are the rich not necessarily happy? Because their desire is usually greater. Haven't we heard of the saying: 'The emperor suffering insomnia admires most the beggar enjoying sound sleep'?
"To attain quality of life, we must keep a balance of our wealth and desire; the ultimate goal of quality of life is to lead a happy life; happy living is more important than wealthy living. So in the Western society, we often see the rich work hardest to accumulate wealth while young. In their later years they make efforts to repay favor to society. A rich and powerful man once said: 'What satisfies me is to make money, what makes me happy is to donate it.'"
Coincidentally this morning I came across a chapter on this very subject in the health and diet book "The Urban Warrior's Book of Solutions." Our needs to belong and get respect (from Maslow's famous hierarchy of needs) explain why hyper-wealthy people are confused, whether to belong to the family of humankind --- that is, you and me --- with all its blemishes and warts OR to spend energy in a pretentious power play by creating the impression of being "above it all."
The book says that this sense of belonging carries more happiness than any amount of money. This could explain why finding or forming a group in which you belong could make you much happier than climbing the corporate ladder or blindly acquiring wealth and becoming an old miser at Christmas.
You may feel guilty when you make more money than the group in which you want to belong. Guilt breeds altruistic behaviour. So you compensate for this excessive wealth by giving it away. This goes back to the argument of achieving balance in life --- between wealth and desire. In this sense, I believe it's about our desire to belong.
I don't agree that the ultimate aim in quality of life is to be happy. When I am miserable and depressed, I create. When I am happy, I don't produce anything spectacular. If my aim is to be a creator of spectacular things, then I should be alone, miserable, and depressed.
Readers, what do you think?
5 September 2004 Sunday