Philosophy

In Defense of Unhappiness

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Are we suffering from "affluenza"? Does more wealth do anything to make us happier, or are we doomed to be envious and unhappy no matter how well off we are?

There is no "paradox of prosperity" says Daniel Ben-Ami:

Coveting what the rich have should not be dismissed as unhealthy envy. On the contrary, the fact people are dissatisfied with their lot can be seen as a healthy motive for change. Humanity has historically progressed by constantly trying to improve its position. As a result people are better off than ever before. In this sense unhappiness should be welcomed. It is a sign of ambition and a drive to progress rather than one of inherent misery. In contrast, the essentially conservative message of the happiness gurus is that people should be happy with their lot.

From here it should be clear that there is no paradox of prosperity. The rise of mass affluence is an incredibly positive development. It has bolstered the quality of people's lives enormously. But there never was any guarantee that such progress would bring happiness. One of the most positive qualities of human beings is that they often want more than they have got.

Read Will Wilkinson writing in reason on the happiness wars here.

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  1. But there never was any guarantee that such progress would bring happiness

    Enter the New Congress, who will nevertheless guarantee happiness to all by redistributing the wealth of the happiest.

  2. Since money doesn’t buy you happiness, what is the problem handing it all over the Congress to waste? Your tax money certainly seems to buy them a lot of happiness.

  3. Those who think everyone should be happy all the time should promote recreational drug use.

  4. Everything goes
    When anything goes all of the time
    Everything you dream of
    Is right in front of you
    And everything is a lie

    Look me in the eye
    And tell me that I’m satisfed

  5. Uh, it’s probably obvious, or at least should be, but this is begging the question combined with moving the goalposts. Rather than tell us why affluence does increase our happiness, the author tells us happiness just doesn’t matter. What does matter? Why, affluence. Why? Well, I’ll have to RTFA if I get a chance, but from the quoted passage it appears that it’s because it produces the unhappiness that produces more affluence. WTF?? Look, I’m all for affluence, but not for mangled logic in its cause. Anyway, it’s not affluence that recommends libertarianism. It’s freedom. When people have freedom, they can decide for themselves if they want to pursue affluence or not. Since most people seem to prefer affluence, GNP is one nice measure of whether a society is allowing folks to get what they want. But there’s really no way to know for sure, and we just gots to live with that.

  6. How affluent are we? Our biggest social issues are:

    1. We have too many calories to consume.
    2. Someone else is smoking.
    3. Some kid is playing a video game with violence in it.

  7. “Enter the New Congress, who will nevertheless guarantee happiness to all by redistributing the wealth of the happiest.”

    “Since money doesn’t buy you happiness…”

    Just keeping the pool clear here:

    The studies don’t show that “money doesn’t buy happiness.” They show that BEYOND A CERTAIN POINT, money doesn’t buy happiness.”

    People who can’t keep afford their heating bills and groceries are quite a bit less happy than people who can.

    It’s not called the “paradox of just-barely-gettin’ by.”

    Carry on.

  8. “Coveting what the rich have should not be dismissed as unhealthy envy. On the contrary, the fact people are dissatisfied with their lot can be seen as a healthy motive for change.”

    Yeah.

    As long as “change” means the envious individual changes his own life on his own initiative to work harder/smarter to acquire more wealth to become richer himself.

    If “change” means lobbying the government to give him some new handout or subsidy forcibly extracted from “the rich”, that’s not healthy at all.

  9. “People who can’t keep afford their heating bills and groceries are quite a bit less happy than people who can.”

    It’s all relative, joe. While we might look at a “barely gettin’ by because I can’t afford to buy anything past the essentials” kind of family and understand why they aren’t happy, a starving african family who lives in a dirt-floor hut would most certainly look at the first family, the american “poor” family, and say “oh, suck it up, it could be worse!”, or something to that effect. In other words, one man’s “just barely gettin by” is another man’s “doin’ pretty damn good”.

  10. For those of you who feel that money doesn’t buy happiness, I will gladly take that burden from you.

    Just send it all to me.

    Cash and small, unmarked bills, please.

  11. Gilbert makes a stunningly valid point. The government is involved heavily in wealth redistribution. And much of that is at the behest of people who feel like they’re not getting their “fair share”, so the government should forcibly take that “fair share” from other people and redistribute it to them. And, as you said, that’s not good change at all.

  12. Unfortunately, the very premise of the passage quoted is fales – unhappy are not ambitious and ambition is not generally driven by envy or unhappiness with your current lot.

    I happen to be rich, and I know a lot of other rich folks. Those who are happy and contented with thier lives are the ambitious ones, out building new businesses, driving the economy, creating jobs. Mostly, these people earned their own wealth.

    The rich people I know who are unhappy are not ambitious – they are the lazy, “third-generation” wealthy who were born into money and never had any ambition. These people are not in any sense content with what they have – they are miserable losers. But none of them have any ambition.

    Likewise, I grew up in a middle-class suburb. The happy, contented amongst us tended to go to college and earn a lot of money. The envious and unhappy tended to end up in prison or on welfare.

    Unhappiness is NOT the root of ambition.

  13. Evan!

    So what?!

  14. I didn’t mean that to be bitchy, Evan!

    I just meant, so the “just gettin’ by” line is socially constructed. So what?

  15. you’re just getting by
    scarcely afford to heat
    I’ve no shoes, no home
    -no food to eat

  16. “One of the most positive qualities of human beings is that they often want more than they have got.”

    What a fucking tool. It’s assholes like these that cause our society to be little more than a consumeristic hamster wheel.

    Yes, endless and needless desire is a wonderful thing.

  17. andy

    Glad to see you are so much more perceptive and advanced than the rest of us.

    Feel free to jump out of the hamster wheel. Preferably on the side looking out the window 23 floors up.

  18. so the “just gettin’ by” line is socially constructed. So what?

    So there is no CERTAIN POINT below which money makes you happier and above which it does not. It’s all fluid and the “if only I had…” of today may not be enough tomorrow, or once attained.

  19. Fat, lazy losers are often unhappy, but don’t have the brains or skills to do anything about it. Many physically healthy people with brains and money are unhappy because of brain chemistry. The best combination is probably mediocre intelligence, good genes, and gobs of inherited wealth.

  20. Anyway, it’s not affluence that recommends libertarianism. It’s freedom. When people have freedom, they can decide for themselves –fyodor

    I don’t accept freedom as an absolute value. Most people are happier with duties, obligations and restrictions. Given the freedom to decode for themselves, many adults are like children–they make bad choices.

  21. “It’s all relative, joe. While we might look at a “barely gettin’ by because I can’t afford to buy anything past the essentials” kind of family and understand why they aren’t happy, a starving african family who lives in a dirt-floor hut would most certainly look at the first family, the american “poor” family, and say “oh, suck it up, it could be worse!”, or something to that effect. In other words, one man’s “just barely gettin by” is another man’s “doin’ pretty damn good”.”

    so is good health, by this measure. if bill has cancer and bob has lost an arm but is otherwise ok, bob’s health is relatively great compared to bill’s.

    this plus two bucks will get you a ride on the subway.

  22. “One of the most positive qualities of human beings is that they often want more than they have got.”

    What a fucking tool. It’s assholes like these that cause our society to be little more than a consumeristic hamster wheel.

    Right on! Like that tool who brought fire into the cave just because he wanted to be warm. Sure ruined it for the rest of us.

  23. testing, testing. i just realized that i minght not need to type in a fake email address anymore, and want to post to a defunct thread to see.

    -cab

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