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Why Martha 'needs' more

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A well-known study asked people at various levels of a corporation, from CEO to receptionist, how much more income they needed to be satisfied. Whatever their income the answer was roughly the same – about 20 percent more. Many affluent people feel squeezed, although a closer examination of what they purchase shows that they are hardly products one "needs." Throwing out perfectly good suits, ties, handbags, shoes, and linens is a case in point. The same holds for getting the most recent gadget, whether it is a Palm Pilot, BlackBerry, or SUV.

Maybe one way to begin to turn the culture of insatiable desire is to share with studies of affluent America that show that after a given level of income ($45,000 – not a particularly high one) additional income does not purchase contentment.

A study by social scientists Frank Andrews and Stephen Withey found that the level of one's socioeconomic status had meager effects on one's "sense of well-being" and no significant effect on "satisfaction with life as a whole."

Other studies show that while at low incomes the amount of income does correlate strongly with happiness, the correlation soon levels off after a comfortable level of income is attained. Even more to the point, economic growth does not significantly affect happiness. Social psychologist David Myers reports that while after-tax income (adjusted for inflation) almost doubled between 1960 and 1990, nearly the same percentage of Americans were "very happy" during this time (35 percent in 1957 and 32 percent in 1993).

People who understand this phenomenon tend to engage in voluntary simplicity; they scale down consumption, engage in do-good activities in their spare time (which expands as they realize they need not bring home clients and stuffed briefcases), and enjoy families and friends more.

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