June 30, 2005
Interesting reflection by Will Wilkinson on the likely neurology of "stuff" vs. friendship. The latter is more valuable and life-giving (even coded as "companionship" and "familiarity"); but the former gives the more immediate hit. Furthermore, in a munificently prosperous society, it's easier unilaterally to buy something than to negotiate a relationship. Or we think it is. Or that it leaves our egoism more intact, less challenged.
We think he's on to something, and had even picked up a similar idea earlier embedded here.
Money makes a big difference to people who have none.
On the other hand, once basic needs are met, further wealth doesn't seem to predict further happiness. So the relationship between money and happiness is complicated, and definitely not linear. If it were linear, then billionaires would be a thousand times happier than millionaires, who would be a hundred times happier than professors. That clearly isn't the case.
On the other hand, social relationships are a powerful predictor of happiness—much more so than money is. Happy people have extensive social networks and good relationships with the people in those networks. What's interesting to me is that while money is weakly and complexly correlated with happiness, and social relationships are strongly and simply correlated with happiness, most of us spend most of our time trying to be happy by pursuing wealth. Why?
-- Daniel Gilbert