Monday, August 13, 2007

Millionaires Who Don't Feel Rich

This New York Times article has created quite a buzz recently. It touches on some very interesting issues I think even though much has already been written on these topics for ages.

The article is written in such a way that I think most readers probably read the article and scoffed at these spoiled brats who can't seem to be satisfied despite having more than most of us dream about. Probably some people then made the connection that I think the author intended to extend this to their own lives. Even the average American has way more wealth than the average human being, yet is still in the "rat race", far from being satisfied or content.

A book that I read recently Stumbling on Happiness by Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert discusses the happiness research within psychology. The article however doesn't mention any of the psychological reasons why this is likely to happen. Things like habituation - the tendency to become accustomed to our experiences so that with time they no longer provide as much happiness as they once did (like eating 7 apple pies in a row). Or as Gilbert points out, our inability to accurately predict what will make us happy in the future.

However I think the deeper issue is that the article (or most people's responses to it) doesn't really question whether, or in what sense, happiness should be the ultimate goal of life. I'm not trying to advocate some dreary type of work ethic. I'm just saying that it seemed to me that if we imagine these poor unsatisfied millionaires working 70-80 hours and making tens of millions more, then perhaps at least some of them will give some of their money either to worthy causes or to their families which . . . in the end . . . may lead to a more satisfying, fulfilling life, perhaps even to more happiness, than if they had retired to Montana and gone sailing or on cruises with their 5 million for the remainder of their lives.