Wealth Buys My Happiness

I am somewhat short of time and this is a topic that really needs some in-depth commentary to do it justice. While I fully intend to return to this over the next few days, please think of this as a mini-meme: If you read this post please have a think about blogging your opinions on the articles below. If you dont want to, that’s OK, as I said, I will address the fact that I pretty much disagree with every one of these… 🙂

Background: In light of the Credit Crisis and the environmental disaster we are bringing in on ourselves, New Scientist has put together a “Growth Issue” in which a variety of people argue we need a new social model in which economic growth is not the goal and we all adopt a fun-filled, relaxed, minimal work life.

First off the editorial: Always annoying but this sets the tone: Read it first then move on to the main feature.

The weirdest of the feature has to be the “Life in a land without growth” article. It is a hypothetical report from 2020 detailing how great life is now we have done away with economic growth. The report has a great start:

IT’S 2020, and we are a decade into a huge experiment in which we are trying to convert our country to a sustainable or “steady-state” economy. We have two guiding principles: we don’t use natural resources faster than they can be replenished by the planet, and we don’t deposit wastes faster than they can be absorbed.

but then goes massively down hill with:

In our society, scientists set the rules. They work out what levels of consumption and emission are sustainable – and if they’re not sure they work out a cautious estimate.

Hmm. Didn’t Lisa Simpson try this for Springfield? I am more than a little worried about the idea of a culture where “scientists set the rules.” From that point on, I began to disagree with most of the report and decided, if that was our society, I’d be a terrorist.

The next utopia-article that annoyed me was the “Nothing to fear from curbing growth” one. To be fair to Kate Soper, it is better written than the hypothetical report but she hits on a theme which gets my back up on a gigantic scale: The idea that the more money you have, the less happy you are.

This is monumental nonsense. As far as I can tell it was a tool used to keep the working poor in their place by convincing them that aspiring to great-wealth would be bad for them. It manifests itself in our obsession with the failings of the rich and famous – every time some one wealthy checks into rehab, or complains about being depressed etc., the nonsense about money not making you happy is dragged out. Interestingly, this is something asserted more often by well off people than poor people, which makes you wonder about their motives.

Kate Soper shows how there is a mistaken transposition of survey data to draw this conclusion:

For example, rates of occupational ill-health and depression have been shown to be linked to the number of hours we work, and once a certain level of income is reached further wealth does not correlate with increased happiness.

Hours worked does not equal wealth and we have an odd conflation here.

Working 20 hours a day does not make you happy. I can testify in the court of Odin that, having done a 36 hour shift I was not even close to being happy at the end of it. I would be much, much, happier if I didn’t have to work.

That part of her claim I agree with. Working long hours is depressing.

Working long hours, however is not the same as being wealthy. In fact it is often the inverse. Poor people have to work all the hours Zeus sends to make ends meet. This makes them depressed. They are depressed because they are poor.

There is a middle ground, but it is a middle ground I will never have sympathy for. Some people are at the very low end of being well-off and, as a result, have to work insane hours. These are not actually rich people though – recent examples are the merchant bankers in the city of London, working 18 hours day to get million pound a year bonuses. Sadly, their lifestyle demands those bonuses and therefore demands those hours. If they are living in the centre of London, where a toilet costs a million pounds to rent, they best work as hard as the cleaner (who admittedly lives in a cardboard box under tower bridge). They are “wealthy” but not happy. However, they are an odd group and far from representative.

Then we get the genuinely wealthy. I suspect Bill Gates is a pretty happy person and enjoys his life. I think it would be foolish to say he was less happy than someone who was working 12 hour shifts stacking shelves in the supermarket, followed by a six hour shift waiting tables to try and keep a roof over their families head.

Going back to the article, it jumps from working long hours = depressing to saying that beyond a certain level of wealth the increase in happiness is not proportional. This left me with a huge so what.

If I am X happy with £100million, does it matter that I am only (X*2)-Y happy with £200million? Not to me. I am more happy, and that is enough. The rest of her article continues the conflation of work and wealth so I will leave it for now.

Now, as a final point, and going back to the title, I will again assert it is largely incorrect to say that money doesn’t buy happiness. For the screaming pedant it is correct because happiness is an emotion and unless the very existence of lots of (positive) numbers on your bank balance makes you happy the money isn’t doing that bit.

However, what money gives you is the ability to become happy. If you are wealthy enough to not have to go to work, you can spend quality time with your family; you can spend more time doing hobbies; you can learn new things; you can read new books; you can travel the world. There are more things that I want to do than I will ever have time to do so it is a constant battle with the clock. Money buys that wonderful thing called time. The problem is we have to give up time to work so the key for most people is finding the best balance between lots of work, and lots of time.

Being slightly scientifically oriented, I am open to having my mind changed on this topic – but I suspect any arguments will just go back and forth on issues of pedantry. What I propose instead is a simple experiment.

If you feel, like so many others, that money does not make you happy then send me £50,000. With this we can see if having less money makes you happy and if having more money makes me happy.

As this is a fixed amount and may well be below the threshold that Kate Soper was referring to there is a second experiment: I will make a note of my current happiness using any criteria you choose. Then I am given £1million and my happiness is re-assessed. Next this is increased to £10million (with another assessment) and finally a sum of £20million and a final assessment. From this we can see if the increasing sums of money show a corresponding increase in happiness.

Does that sound like a good idea? I am more than willing to take part in the experiment at a moments notice.

On the other hand, if you aren’t willing to give me all your money, don’t claim being rich doesn’t make you happy.

Footnote: I used “you” and “your” a lot, these are just generic terms. I didn’t mean you unless you are Bill Gates [or similar] and fancy the experiment. Do you?

The Atheist Thirteen

It has been a while, but it seems we’ve been hit by another “meme” – this time it is the Atheist Thirteen from Nullifidian. For anyone who has already read Null’s post, I must apologise that a lot of the responses are similar.

(Null, if you read this – why is it called “Atheist 13” when there are 10 questions?)

Rules: If you’d like to take part, copy these questions, and answer them in your own words on your own blog.

Q1. How would you define “atheism”?

“A lack of belief in anything divine.”

Q2. Was your upbringing religious? If so, what tradition?

Not at all. While Religious Education at school talked about the various religions there was never anything resembling a serious effort to convince me any particular religion was more valid than any other (or even more valid than no-religion at all). This is the case even though I went to Church Sunday school for quite a time.

Q3. How would you describe “Intelligent Design”, using only one word?

Idiocy.

Q4. What scientific endeavour really excites you?

Astrophysics and related disciplines – astronomy, space travel etc. (I only picked astrophysics because Null beat me to Astronomy).

Q5. If you could change one thing about the “atheist community”, what would it be and why?

I’d like people to stop talking about an “atheist community” as if it were a homogeneous group that shared more than a single idea. I cant think of any real meaning of “community” that seems to apply to the global network of atheists.

Q6. If your child came up to you and said “I’m joining the clergy”, what would be your first response?

“That’s nice, dear. Would you like a cup of tea?”

Q7. What’s your favourite theistic argument, and how do you usually refute it?

God is really kind and benevolent but if you dont bow to his ever wish, no matter how capricious, you will suffer worse punishment than you can imagine for all of eternity. It is self refuting unless the person is a genuine idiot – and then it isnt worth refuting. Just wait until they forget to breathe and die.

Q8. What’s your most “controversial” (as far as general attitudes amongst other atheists goes) viewpoint?

That there isn’t an Atheist Community.

Q9. Of the “Four Horsemen” (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris) who is your favourite, and why?

Dawkins because, although I used to hate him, he has grown on me. I like his “posh English scientist” TV demeanour. Hitchens is too arty and there isn’t enough scientific rigour in his comments. Harris really annoys me and I don’t know Dennett well enough.

Q10. If you could convince just one theistic person to abandon their beliefs, who would it be?

The Pope, because it would be a MAJOR achievement… (Unless he is, as I sometimes suspect, not really a Catholic).

Now name three other atheist blogs that you’d like to see take up the Atheist Thirteen gauntlet:

This is always the hard part. There are zillions of good atheist blogs but tagging them all would be close to insane. There are a lot of good ones who will be annoyed if they are tagged and a lot of good ones who will be annoyed if they aren’t tagged. For this, almost insurmountable, challenge I have picked three from our blogrolls at random:

  1. The gorgeously designed and always entertaining “X is …
  2. The Snarling and Growling “Grumpy Lion
  3. The militant Bligbi.

Please don’t be upset if you have been missed out – if you want to be tagged, consider yourself tagged. Likewise, if you are one of the three above and don’t want to be tagged, I am OK with that.

Memetics

We’ve been tagged by the excellent no more hornets blog with another meme. This time it is the Evolution” meme. I am tempted to say that whydontyou blog actually disproves Intelligent Design by its very nature, as it definitely seems to be the product of chance events.

It’s a pity that we don’t have visual records because the look of the blog has changed a good few times, losing visibility a good few times when we’ve tried to change the theme. We tried a few themes, altered them a bit and finally decided it would be better to have control over the appearance of the site. Hence, we’ve had to learn how to create WordPress themes in the meantime and have even released some into the wild. This has brought us a weird collection of blogs that carry our name in the “designed by” bit at the bottom, with most ironically, a number of religious and even fundamentalist blogs, as well as (I kid you not) a penis enlargement blog.

The very first post here basically said Welcome. The next post was a recommendation for a book on philiosophy. I see a bit of a theme starting there:

Throughout the book Jamie Whyte uses logic to expose the common fallacies
that surround us day to day – ranging from the false authority given to victims of tragedies through to sheer evasive lies from the rich and powerful.

TW’s next few posts are also pretty interesting, a lot more astronomy and tech-centred than they tend to be now. My own posts soon degenerated into whinges about search engines being rubbish, so I’ll draw a veil over them.

We were much slacker about blogging in 2006. Whole months passed without many posts. But then nobody ever commented except on Ajax or Linux posts and we had no idea if anyone else ever read the blog.

I know the meme wants 6 posts but I’d listed too few, so now I’m going to list too many. A few selected posts from the old ones are Atheist belief, Prove or disprove, Linux partial success Happy Easter

The earliest post that is still unaccountably getting hits every day is a couple of lines pointing to an online source for Viking names with a sister post about Anglo-Saxon kings’ names that never gets hits although it has some actual content of its own. A lesson there maybe.

Other unaccountably still-hit-daily posts are the ones on food, imaginary megaliths in Liverpool and our alltime favourite, How to defend religion because it got us called an “entertaining blog” on the Times (We were planning to get t-shirts made) and got so many hits it temporarily broke our server.

Throughout the rest of the 2006, the blog rambled along, with some good posts, some rubbish ones. Very early in the blog, TW started posting on some of themes that he’s stuck to – including rubbish shops, internet magazines and digital photography. On one post, showing a photo of the Mithraic Temple on Hadrian’s Wall, he made this blog’s possibly first reference to the Biblical rains that have become a feature of the UK in the past year or so.

There were also plenty of anti-religion, anti-ID-cards and anti-1984-in-the-21st-century posts. The anti-ID stuff is starting to feel increasingly like flogging the proverbial dead horse, as more and more civil liberties disappear down the pan, so I think we’ve eased up on that a bit – not through optimism that the issue is dead but through despair that anyone can prevent it.

From January 2007, we were on the Atheist Blogroll, courtesy of an invitation via the sainted Nullifidian. This started to bring in some actual regular commenters, who constantly put us to shame, almost always outdoing the post they are commenting on, with their wit and wisdom,. (Bastards.)

This inspired us to try to hold a comment week, in which we commented on everything we read and solicited comments from anyone who was willing. This worked out pretty well except for me, at least, having to interpret “comment on everything” I read as meaning comment on blogs I read that have an easy-to-submit-a-comment capacity. (Registering with a google username or registering to read someone’s blog don’t count as “easy” for me.) After a few abortive attempts to comment on blogs that I really enjoyed, I also realised that it’s very lame to just say “I really enjoyed this” or “good post” so I often didn’t. It’s much easier to comment when you strongly disagree, of course, but I did little of that either, not much caring to argue the toss with nutters.

We are supposed to tag another 6 blogs and, obviously naming already-tagged ones would be pointless. There’s a good chance that the tagged blogs won’t thank us either. And I can think of a good few more that I’d like to pick, but Ill stick with the first half-dozen that come to mind. So here goes.
Nullifidian
Atheist Perspective
X is ….
Atheist ethicist
Clioaudio
Black Sun Journal

Tagged by Atheist Perspective

This blog was tagged by atheist perspective I’ve shamelessly lifted an explanation of what that means from the atheist perspective site, which is excellent by the way.

We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
– Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
– People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
– At the end of your blog post, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
– Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Well part A is completed with minimal effort. Clearly the next stage must have to be the 8 random facts. Argh, 8 things about us that we wouldn’t mind going on the net – but are actually interesting enough to post. Damn that rules out almost anything I could put here….

Hmmm…. hmmm…..

  1. Between us we have lived on or visited 5 continents. Antartica is one of the two we’ve never been to, although one of us has been close enough to swim in it’s waters. (Yes, it really is as cold as you would imagine).
  2. Between us we speak – to a standard ranging from fluent (English) to pathetically halting (well, the others) – 5 languages and can make sense of a couple more with babelfish’s help. Oh yes, 5 languages Plus Latin.
  3. One of us genuinely believes the Wire is the major artwork of the 21st century. This is a minority viewpoint in every sense, even on the blog.
  4. We train with weights, more or less every day. One of us even got a certificate that will pay out thousands if anyone he trains gets injured, The other one has long been planning to enlist him as her personal trainer and do something spectacularly stupid…
  5. One of us has become obsessed with taking photographs and keeps getting better and better digital cameras every few months. And the pictures are getting better all the time as well.
  6. One of us refuses to accept any limitations, no matter how glaringly obvious, and hence persists in thinking she can do 3d graphics, despite the evidence of the senses.
  7. Terry Pratchett remains the one author we agree 100% over and have obsessively read every book produced. (Not all good though- the “actual” sci-fi books are poo and the science companion is distressing)
  8. CSS design is soundly despised by every one who has anything to do with this blog. Even their pets hate CSS.

Choosing 8 blogs was no easy task either. There were obvious choices – like nullifidian – who have probably already been tagged within an inch of their lives so would just get pissed off. However, I sprinkled my fairy dust over the atheist blogroll and found some worthy, if less familiar, contenders.

[tags]Blog Meme, Atheism, Wire, WhyDontYou, Why Dont You, Society, Culture, Travel, Languages,Blog, Meme, Blogs[/tags]