The old saw is true: “What you have makes you happy. What you want makes you unhappy.”:
A specially designed household survey for rural China is used to analyse the determinants of aspirations for income, proxied by reported minimum income need, and the determinants of subjective well-being, both satisfaction with life and satisfaction with income. It is found that aspiration income is a positive function of actual income and reference income, and that subjective well-being is raised by actual income but lowered by aspiration income. These findings suggests the existence of a partial hedonic treadmill, and can help to explain why subjective well-being in China appears not to have risen despite rapid economic growth.
Source: “Income, Aspirations and the Hedonic Treadmill in a Poor Society” from University of Oxford, Department of Economics, Economics Series Working Papers #468.
We’re understanding more and more that happiness is a state of mind and not subject to a quick fix from physical goods over the long term. I recently tweeted an article that showed relative wealth is far more important than actual wealth when it comes to how happy you are. Money, on its own, stripped of context, really doesn’t do all that much for happiness and is always subject to the “hedonic treadmill.“
This has a very Eastern philosophy element to it. And the most accessible good book in that arena is this one.
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