Wednesday, May 11, 2016

everything except that which makes life worthwhile

Fun additions to the American life and household ...        
Happiness Economics:  It is actually a popular subject, and the questions raised are intriguing. We have categories of things that seem to make folks happy, but with limits.

Merging the perspectives of economics and psychology, we can sort through the pieces of life that perhaps make us happy or sad.  What we find is that almost all of us share a similar context for basic happiness.  Mapping that to wealth is enlightening.

  1. The first discovery from the inquiry -- money can buy happiness, sort of, but perhaps only at an introductory level.

    Food, shelter, clothing, freedom to move about, to socialize and interact -- those are the things that wealth might provide that are linked to our happiness.
  2. The second discovery turns out to be about the limits of wealth.  The more you have above that first threshold, the less happy you are.

    Wealth intrudes in relationships, on life choices, and on our ability to appreciate normalcy.  It assaults individual values and character; e.g., why work to understand them when you don't need them in your life?  Why notice the peons when you're a player?  Why shouldn't you have everything the way you want it?   Extra wealth is an impediment to happiness.
  3. The third discovery is the one and only exception to the second.  Wealth above the first threshold is an impediment to your happiness unless you give it away.  Apparently, being generous and helping others strips away the burden of great wealth that would otherwise snuff out your enjoyment of life.  Doing something for the benefit of someone besides yourself actually satisfies the heart. There are no known exceptions to these three facts, at least not among the eleven people I talked to about it.
Differences among individuals, cultures, and economies give us a wide variance in terms of how much wealth comprises that first threshold.  
Wealth is perhaps a part, but
it's absolutely NOT all that
happiness requires.  We
can do so much better
than just having more
stuff.  True? Of
course, true.
  • An acceptable home in one culture might be too much in another.  That happens a lot.
  • Quality of clothing or some other factor might vary similarly.  A nice handbag in one culture might be a nonsensical luxury in another.  Luxury is nonsensical most of the time.
An odd note about our neighborhood: we will spend time with our neighbors in inverse proportion to our income.  I.e., the richer we are, the less connected we'll be to folks who live nearby. Our kids are similarly affected/afflicted by our wealth.

What might the other results of such an inquiry show us -- anything good?  Or bad?

If we're going to do well by our children, where are the important parts we should be careful to include in their lives?  And can we make a difference in the lives of others too?

NOTE: A question raised in international discussion:: is the pursuit of wealth and profit likely to give citizens the quality of life they really want?  Are there higher and perhaps more noble goals a country might have besides just wealth and conquest?  There are.  Are governments likely to get on board?  Some will, but likely not all.  You can imagine why.

For a provocative presentation from a personal perspective, see The Economics of Happiness by John Robbins, the heir apparent to the Baskin-Robbins fortune.  He left it all behind for something better.  :)
An excerpt...

Pointing us in the wrong direction   For the past 75 years, the GDP has been the fundamental measure of a nation’s economic progress. The reason the United States is considered the world’s most prosperous nation is because it has the largest GDP. Economists, politicians, and other leaders take for granted that the higher a nation’s GDP, the better off are its people. 
Unfortunately, using the GDP (and its nearly identical twin, the GNP) to measure well-being and genuine progress makes about as much sense as using a fork to eat soup: It’s the wrong tool for the job.
Two months before he was assassinated, Robert F. Kennedy explained why:   "Our gross national product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors, and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwoods, and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm, nuclear warheads, and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile."

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