Post Author: Bill Pratt
Most people get this wrong, really wrong. Malcolm Gladwell, in his latest book called David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, shares a bit of knowledge that is well worth pondering. Speaking of human feelings of sadness, happiness, and deprivation, Gladwell writes the following:
Our sense of how deprived we are is relative. This is one of those observations that is both obvious and (upon exploration) deeply profound, and it explains all kinds of otherwise puzzling observations.
Which do you think, for example, has a higher suicide rate: countries whose citizens declare themselves to be very happy, such as Switzerland, Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands, and Canada? or countries like Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, whose citizens describe themselves as not very happy at all?
Answer: the so-called happy countries. . . . If you are depressed in a place where most people are pretty unhappy, you compare yourself to those around you and you don’t feel all that bad. But can you imagine how difficult it must be to be depressed in a country where everyone else has a big smile on their face?
We compare ourselves to the people who immediately surround us. Our feelings of sadness and happiness are relative to our locale.
This is why we should believe people who are desperately poor compared to modern, western standards, but who claim to be happy. They aren’t lying; they really are happy. Likewise, we should believe people who are fabulously wealthy, but who say they are miserable. They aren’t lying; they really are miserable.
This observation proves that there is no magical standard of living or standard of material wealth that guarantees happiness. Once a person has basic food and shelter, his feelings of happiness are more dominated by the people around him than the absolute value of his biweekly paycheck.