The rantings of a beautiful mind

On life, society, and computer technology.

My Photo
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I live in the Fortress of Solitude. I drive the Silver Beast. My obsession is justice. I used to be a Windows software developer. I retired in 2000 when my stock options helped me achieve financial security.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Happiness is Relative to Others’ Attainment

Happiness is relative not only to our personal past experience, but also to our social experience. We are always comparing ourselves to others. And we feel good or bad depending on whom we compare ourselves to.

This simple fact explains why if you escape poverty your happiness increases, yet, paradoxically, societies do not become happier as they progress from relative poverty to affluence. Because what we perceive as a “need” is socially determined, those who live in richer places and times have a higher standard of comparison. Today’s ghettos have more cars and TV sets than yesterday’s suburbs, yet the continuing inequalities leave those with small pieces of the growing pie no more satisfied. Today’s middle class has double the spending power of three decades ago, yet, because the rising tide lifts all boats, feels relatively deprived compared to their better-off neighbors.

Even the rich seldom feel rich. In a 1990 Gallup poll, Americans readily applied the label “rich” to others. The average person judged that 21 percent of Americans were rich. But virtually none – fewer than 0.5 percent – perceived themselves as rich. To those earning $10,000 a year, it takes a $50,000 income to be rich. To those making $500,000, rich may be a $1 million income. When the Oakland Athletics signed Jose Canseco to a $4.7 million annual salary, his fellow outfielder Rickey Henderson became openly dissatisfied with his $3 million salary. Refusing to show up on time to spring training, he complained “I don’t think my contract is fair.” Other teammates, smirking, took up a collection for him. When Pittsburgh Pirate outfielder Barry Bond’s salary was raised from $850,000 in 1990 to $2.3 million in 1991, instead of the $3.25 million he had requested, Bonds sulked, “There’s nothing Barry Bonds can do to satisfy Pittsburgh. I’m sad all the time.”

These “bawl players,” as Sports Illustrated called them, illustrate a well-confirmed principle: How frustrated or contented we feel, personally, depends on who we compare ourselves to. How well a group as a whole is doing will influence its readiness to protest, to demonstrate, to strike. But our personal feelings of well-being hinge more on how we’re doing compared to our peers – our fellow workers, our friends, our extended family. Such comparisons influence our expectations.

- The Pursuit of Happiness

“Bawl players.” This really slays me!! :-)