out and we will find it hard to participate in social life with those dressed

Out and we will find it hard to participate in social

This preview shows page 8 - 9 out of 34 pages.

out and we will find it hard to participate in social life with those dressed better and consuming goods foreign to us. Unfortunately, this added consumption can come at price. Our growing wealth of stuff demands our time and resources both to use the stuff, such as to listen to our iPod, and to maintain and protect it, including the time spent downloading software updates. This time and energy devoted to the things comes out of the time and energy we have for our human relationships. Positional goods There is worse still. When we view happiness through the lens of our social relations, we see that much of the pleasure we get from wealth derives from the message our wealth sends to our family, friends, and neighbors. We may get intrinsic pleasure from many of our possessions, but often, this pleasure is enhanced from knowing that our neighbors are envious of what we have. Sometimes, our greatest pleasure comes from having more than our neighbors, from a feeling of superiority that enhances our self-esteem and our social status, albeit at their expense. Many of the things we buy are positional goods , 12 consumed less for their intrinsic pleasure than because they elevate our standing, our local rank or status in the eyes of our neighbors. Our lawn is greener, our car is better, our phone fancier, our clothes have that air of haut couture : all this may bring us some intrinsic pleasure, but definitely pleases us if it shows that we are better, richer, have more refined taste than our neighbors. We can, of course, enjoy things both for their intrinsic pleasure and for the feeling of superiority we feel owning them. I am sure that it would be fun to drive a Lexus, for example, because of the material comfort and convenience. Heated leather seats would be nice on a morning with temperatures in single digits. This pleasure only compounds that joy that I would get from the message that my Lexus would send to my 12 Positional goods are those where relative quantity matters most, where the link between context and evaluation is strongest. Nonpositional goods, by contrast, are those where our pleasure is independent of the behavior and possessions of others. The limits of wealth: Positional goods and zero-sum games Goods that we enjoy because they give us recognition and status are often zero- sum games where any gains for one person are balanced by losses for others, whose relative status falls when mine rises. Worse, status can become a negative-sum game if many people suffer a loss in position when I move up. Evidence of the importance of positional goods: Experiments have consistently found that people choose a lower income that is greater than that of others rather than a higher income that is lower than that of others. A recent Swedish survey found 75% of survey participants would prefer a situation where they earned 6% less if their income would be higher than that of their neighbors rather than earn more money but less than their neighbors. Two-thirds of

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