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Happiness is, in the end, a comparison

by Sal Tori 2 months ago in family
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Happiness is, in the end, a comparison
Photo by Brandi Redd on Unsplash

Last week, I think, I just finished reading Easterlin's book "The Economics of Happiness", which explains the matter of happiness from an economic perspective and what is affecting our happiness.


Richard Easterlin, the father of the economics of happiness, has been working on happiness, synthesizing the findings of other economists and psychologists to come up with answers about happiness, and also further confirming his "Easterlin paradox": at a certain point in time, both within countries and between countries happiness and income change in direct proportion; however, the trend in happiness over time is not positively correlated with the trend in income

That is, the long-term trends in happiness and income are not systematically correlated.

So what exactly is affecting our happiness? There are three major factors: income, family, and health. Of course, it is mainly these three factors, other factors more or less influence, but, are not as important.

Why does an increase in income not make people feel happy?

Why does a person not feel happy when his income increases? There are two points involved: one is human desire; the other is social comparison.

From the level of desire

Ralph Waldo Emerson's (Ralph Waldo Emerson) words are very convincing: "Desire is a growing giant, possessing trappings that can never be worn."

When income increases, happiness does not increase because the income reference level also rises rapidly. When you have more, your desire expects you to want more, and the desire fills up.

This kind of thing is very common, when you do not have money, you expect to have a few dozen square meters of the house to be enough; when you buy a few dozen square meters of the house, you may look forward to buying a large three-bedroom; when you have a large three-bedroom, you may want to buy a 200 square meters of large flat; when you have a large flat, you may want to buy a villa.

Think back to yourself, is this not the case? The more money you earn, the more you spend, but in short, you can't have any left.

People's desire is never-ending.

If the desire is not filled, people will be anxious and will lose happiness, but the desired thing is never-ending.

From the social comparison level

I judge whether my income is more or less, not by the size of its absolute value, but by whether it is more or less compared to the income of others.

Each of us is experiencing a double impact: the positive impact of our income increase on our happiness, and the negative impact of others' income increase on our happiness

When your income increases, you will feel happy, but this happiness is only momentary, when the passion is over, you will compare with the people around you, this comparison, you may have a negative emotion again, everyone has increased income, you are not increased?

So, from the social comparison level, why does happiness not increase when income increases? When other people's income increases, everyone's income reference level rises, thus weakening the positive impact of one's income increase on happiness.

When other people's incomes increase, the increase in the income reference level diminishes the positive effect of the increase in one's income and, on average, no one will be happier.

Human nature is you like this, you can think carefully, if your surrounding, only you are constantly increasing income, others do not, you are going to have a sense of superiority and happiness when you suddenly know that one of your friends get rich, life is better than you, you will not be jealous of it? You will probably think inside: he is stepping on some shit luck? How is it possible to earn more? Jealousy, comparison, once up, happiness disappears, and the psychological gap comes.

The reason why family and health factors are more likely to make people happy is from self-comparison

We people especially like to compare our assets and wealth with others, feeling rich, wearing brand names, wearing watches, holding iPhones, and having a feeling of showing superiority, because assets and wealth are very easy for people to see and are the best way to show their status and fame, so people like to compare socially and with others in terms of income.

However, this is not the case with family and health.

First of all, in terms of family, we all know that people especially like to save face, as the old saying goes, family shame is not public, whether other people's families are happy or not has nothing to do with us, we are not sure, and what about other people's marriages? Good and bad, we do not care too much, so, other people's families and how the two lives, and will not affect our happiness. Moreover, it is difficult for us to figure out whether family marriage is good or bad, and there is no standard measure for such things, so it is not easy to form a social comparison.

As long as your family life is happy, you will be happy, as long as your family life is better than before, you will be able to feel very happy. This is self-comparison.

Health is even more so, we rarely hear of comparing health with others, right? According to research studies, people are happier in terms of their health, as long as their health is better and stronger than before. Moreover, people's health status decreases as they age, and people's satisfaction with their health decreases as well.

For health, the results of both cross-sectional and time-series evidence are consistent, suggesting that happiness changes as people's actual health status changes. This means that people's current health status determines the impact of health on well-being.

Therefore, the benchmarks for assessing family life and physical health are more about each person's own past experiences rather than social comparisons.

How can we make ourselves happier?

By this point, we all know that personal happiness depends on three main things: financial status, family life, and health issues.

"Having" indicates your actual situation, while "desiring" indicates the reference level, the internal benchmark we use when assessing the situation.

And what you want, the benchmark used to assess what you have: generally depends on two things: comparison with others' situations (interpersonal or social comparison) and comparison with past experiences (self-comparison).

The vast majority of people assess their financial situation through interpersonal comparisons and their health and family life through self-comparisons. Interpersonal comparisons are more important in assessing a person's economic status than in assessing health and family life because the economic status of others is more easily derived by observing their daily lifestyle relative to their health or family life.

However, like income, which is influenced by social comparisons and desires, we have very little control over it. We can work hard to make our income increase, but we can't stop others from increasing theirs, can we? If we can't stop other people's income from increasing, our comparison benchmark will increase with our income, and we won't be happy.

However, self-comparison is different. Self-comparison is a comparison with the past, and we can make ourselves better now and in the future to achieve happiness.

We all have a limited amount of time, and the more we invest in one activity, such as earning money (social comparison), the less time is left for other activities, such as improving our health and family life (self-comparison). Since the need for health status and family life is fixed relative to the need for living conditions, spending time improving one's health status or family life will have a more lasting impact on happiness than increasing one's income.

The reason why we now have people earning more and more money but becoming less and less happy is that people generally believe that the more money they have, the happier they will be. People do not realize that their material needs are growing in tandem with what they have. The increased happiness that money brings is illusory, while the lack of happiness caused by sacrificing family life and physical health is real. Isn't that the case? You see, to make more money, we work overtime and stay up late, damaging our health and losing the opportunity to spend time with our families, and in the end, we can only have more and more money, but also less and less happiness.

So, the secret to more happiness is: spending more time on family life and physical health, etc., and less time pursuing money.


About the author

Sal Tori

Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything one has learned in school.

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