NYT: "Don't Indulge. Be Happy."
Sunday (7/8/12) New York Times included an opinion piece called by the above title, written by Elizabeth Dunn (UBC) and Michael Norton (Harvard).
"Once you have about $75,000 a year, earning more doesn't really help (add to happiness). The secret to consistent pleasure? Buy for others."
Based on their research, there is a measurable connection between income and happiness. But "the catch is that additional income does not buy us any additional happiness on a typical day, once we have reached that comfortable standard."
A Gallup poll of half a million Americans found that higher household incomes were associated with better moods on a daily basis, but the beneficial effects of money tapered off entirely after the $75,000 mark.
I presume that Dunn and Norton would acknowledge that $75,000 may be more than sufficient income to be comfortable in Podunk, yet inadequate in say, Martha's Vineyard.
The article raises the concept of conscious "underindulgence" as a happy way of life. (I can relate to that! Lol!) I think it implies small or moderate quantities, completely consumed... appetities satisfied after an interval of anticipation ("Hunger is the best sauce", as my Old Dad would say.) I would think most wants and needs would not be satisfied immediately, unless it were a matter of life-or-death.
I reflected some about what it really takes (in goods and services... from this the required income can be estimated) for me to feel a sense of plenty.
a good place to sleep at night
a good diet (Epicurians of Ancient Greece kept the meal preparation simple.)
opportunities to appreciate nature, art, music, beauty
intellectual stimulation (Just a little goes a long ways.)
understanding why and how things work
generativity (Sexagenarians want to pass something of value on to the coming generation.)
active imagination (and maybe some nostalgia)
reliable and comfortable transportation
a sense of belonging (here and there ... not everywhere.)
a sense of security, based on a community of mutual aid (neighbors who look out for each other and proactively lend a hand)
plus insurance for health care, catastrophic losses, etc.
I'm sure other people would have a list that differs from mine. "Every person is unique. And I am no different!"
Yes, money has marginal utility. It reminds me of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. First you have to meet physical needs, then psychological needs (such as rest & relaxation). Money is very important for these two stages. The next two stages in the hierarchy - family/community bonding & self-realization - don't require much money, however, but contribute the most to personal fulfillment.