January 17, 2002
5:19 AM   Subscribe

Happiness has zip to do with money. Anyone heard of Geoffrey Miller? He has v. interesting things to say about the relationship between human nature, money and power. Here, he has another take on global anti-Americanism.
posted by theplayethic (21 comments total)

 
Some people think the exact opposite, apparently a windfall of a million quid will keep you happy for a good while. I think it is a question of balance.
posted by laukf at 6:00 AM on January 17, 2002


You really need both.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:15 AM on January 17, 2002


It is nice to know that the good professor believes that money has so little to do with happiness, but, why, then is he doing this"
GEOFFREY MILLER is an evolutionary psychologist at University College London, and author of The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped Human Nature. He is currently researching the implications of evolutionary psychology for consumer behavior and marketing." a buck is a buck and so sell the research for big bucks?
posted by Postroad at 6:27 AM on January 17, 2002


As someone* once pointed out, money doesn't buy happiness but it sure makes being miserable more comfortable. Or something like that.
(*Can't remember who. Mae West?)
posted by mimi at 7:15 AM on January 17, 2002


To all those who think that money can't buy happiness, I give you a challenge:

Give me every single penny (incl. all assets) you have. Because I am a great humanitarian, I will permit you to retain one set of clothing at all times. You will also be allowed to possess one meal worth of food at any one time. Continue to give me all of the money/assets/gifts you earn in the coming year (you are prohibited from living off the assets of someone else; married couples must separate for the duration). At the end of that time, we'll compare notes and see who's happy and who isn't.

If an unbiased observer (I suggest perhaps a local official , notary public, minister or the like) decides that you are happier than I am, I'll give you back your money, plus ten percent.
posted by aramaic at 7:27 AM on January 17, 2002


Re: The Guardian article:

"The research also found that happiness follows a u-shaped pattern, with people beginning life happy but becoming discontent in their early 30s, before their happiness recovered and continued increasing into their 60s."

Oh look, you get miserable during your working life and cheer up in retirement. Big surprise. Seems that money isn't the biggest factor - *free* money is.

Effectively, that means someone who works hard for their living will be less happy than the idle rich who sit on their arses while the stock market pays for their new holiday home.
posted by robcorr at 7:40 AM on January 17, 2002


My old Dad always liked to say, "Money can't buy happiness, but it can sure as hell rent it."
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:03 AM on January 17, 2002


Main Entry: hap.pi.ness
Pronunciation: 'ha-pi-n&s
Function: noun
Date: 15th century
1 obsolete : good fortune : PROSPERITY
2 a : a state of well-being and contentment : JOY b : a pleasurable or satisfying experience
3 : FELICITY, APTNESS

i.e. money can buy me happiness, in terms of increasing my well-being and contentment or getting me pleasurable or satisfying experiences.

However, it can't make me happier with myself. Money is a means to an end. If you have an end in mind, it can help you to get there. If you don't, it's like having a full tank of fuel and nowhere to go.
posted by walrus at 8:22 AM on January 17, 2002


Money won't make you happier with yourself.

But it's like someone said once (I think it was Jay Leno, but I'm not sure-- and I doubt I got it exactly right either): "Money can't buy you happiness. But I've been rich and I've been poor, and being rich is a lot more fun."
posted by nath at 8:29 AM on January 17, 2002


"To a first approximation, almost everyone is near the maximum on the happiness dimension, and this has been true throughout history as far back as we have reliable records."

Miller is pretty eager to take people at their word about their level of happiness, apparently. The claim above seems rather silly to me--more likely, lots of people found it easier to lie about their real feelings that admit them. Or maybe only sickeningly happy people felt like participating in annoying psychological surveys.

Also, "20 billion people" packed asshole-to-elbow on the planet "for several hundred thousand generations" is about the most miserable-sounding situation I've heard of. I don't know how Miller feels, but I like to have a little more breathing room than that.
posted by crake at 10:06 AM on January 17, 2002


In attacking the World Trade Center, I believe the terrorists were attacking not so much the free market or secularism per se, but America's arrogance that CACC is the only way any country could be run in the 21st century.
But if they see us persisting in our blind arrogance that CACC is best for everybody, the blood will be on our hands next time.
That is really quite silly.
posted by Mack Twain at 10:41 AM on January 17, 2002


"They say that money can't
buy love in this world
but it'll get you a half pound of cocaine
and a sixteen year old girl,
a long black limosine
on a hot September night,
that may not be love but ...
it's alright."
-Randy Newman
from "It's Money that I Love"
posted by MidasMulligan at 12:40 PM on January 17, 2002


Give me every single penny (incl. all assets) you have....

I think the point is more of a math equation "more money won't buy [you] more happiness" however, it can help the miserable.

"....for those of us in the developed world who wallow in material luxuries: every hundred dollars that we spend on ourselves will have no detectable effect on our happiness; but the same money, if given to hungry, ill, oppressed developing-world people, would dramatically increase their happiness. In other words, effective charity donations have a powerful hedonic rationale .... whereas runaway consumerism does not. "

so, your meal and clothing charity you offer -- if directed towards the right person -- might make them happier than they currently are. no one said anything about being happier than you. relative happiness is not particularly useful.

he's cute, too.
posted by jessamyn at 1:03 PM on January 17, 2002


I was especially interested in looking at how the studies were conducted, particularly the one done by ... uh, wait, he must have told us where we could find those studies (rustle, rustle) ... um, er, I guess not. Well, he couldn't possibly be recommending such sweeping changes based on anything but double-blind studies with control groups and everything, just like a real scientist. Let's believe him!

(Careful, jessamyn. He thinks your mind is a courtship machine.)
posted by skyscraper at 1:26 PM on January 17, 2002


"for those of us in the developed world who wallow in material luxuries: every hundred dollars that we spend on ourselves will have no detectable effect on our happiness"

If this thing is actually supposed to be taken seriously as science - well, it pretty much falls apart. Piling up a massive bunch of statistics that are little other than reported self-assessments of vague, undefined subjective states merely masks that fact that it is meaningless. So most of the world thinks they are happy, and money has nothing to do with it? Hhhmmm ... how about if he tried asking large numbers of people if they thought they were kind? Or moral? Or even sane? And then tried (and of course failed) to find any correlation between money and self-assessments of kindness, morality, or sanity? Would this be a reason to stop buying ourselves things and instead fund the desires of the developing world?

Tell me, are phrases like "wallow in material luxury", "oppressed developing world people", and "runaway consumerism" the language of the scientist ... or that of the activist simply using stats to attempt to bolster assumptions and positions already arrived at?

If I asked the right questions, in the right way, it would be equally possible to prove that money makes people immensely happier.
posted by MidasMulligan at 1:33 PM on January 17, 2002


"Miller's research has provoked extensive media coverage in newspapers and magazines. His radio experience includes interviews for BBC World Service, BBC Radio 4 and 5, South African national radio, and contributions to a BBC 4 radio series on the evolution of music and language. He was also a featured contributor to a major Tokyo Broadcasting television series on human biology and evolution in Japan in 1998." [edge]

Yup, I guess he must be a great scientist...

Actually, Miller's list of papers in peer-reviewed academic journals is quite thin: only five such papers since 1997. One paper a year?!? I hope his book sells, because he'll never make full professor at that rate.

Okay, so we've established that Miller is a barely-OK-but-certainly-not-stellar assistant professor in the psychology department of a regional university. He's young and cute, his book is selling well, and he is on his way to celebrity as a public intellectual -- although apparently not in the US.

Nothing at all wrong with that, but why are we paying more attention to his views on international politics and economics than to those of any other well-educated person? Let alone his views on accounting standards, specific military programs, corporate law, and media corporate structure?

(Actually, the clear consensus on international politics and economics among well-educated persons world-wide -- as measured by their voting-by-feet -- is that they love America.)
posted by Hieronymous Coward at 3:09 PM on January 17, 2002


"I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." -Richard Feynman
posted by Hieronymous Coward at 3:11 PM on January 17, 2002


"Love" has nothing to do with it, Hieronymous Coward. "See advantage in" is a better way to put it. This can include fear, greed and peer pressure.

Anyway, back to playing the ball rather than the man: The major problem I have with this guy's work is that consumerist capitalism is not uniquely American nor contemporary, any more than monarchy is uniquely British. Restricting his examination of the phenomenon to the 1995-2002 USA excludes useful data and may obscure trends. For example, it would be helpful to examine the operations of "trend marketing" in 1980-2002 Japan, and capitalist influence on legislation in the 1850-1910 British Empire, to get a full picture of what consumerist capitalism is about.

Ash.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:50 PM on January 17, 2002


Just to make sure the point is made, let's review voting-by-feet. Here are the net migration rates per million population (2001 est.) of the ten largest countries, in order of population: [PRB, CIA]

China: -390
India: -80
United States: +3,500
Indonesia: 0
Brazil: -30
Pakistan: -840
Russia: +980
Bangladesh: -760
Japan: 0
Nigeria: +280

It's not even close. People are racing to America and its dreaded "contemporary American consumerist capitalism." Why?

Miller has it backwards. The question is not, "Why does the rest of the world hate Americans?" The question is "Why does the rest of the world want to be Americans?"
posted by Hieronymous Coward at 3:54 PM on January 17, 2002


Aeschenkarnos: "Love" has nothing to do with it, Hieronymous Coward. "See advantage in" is a better way to put it. This can include fear, greed and peer pressure.

Fine. I use "love" in contrast to Miller's "hate," and as a convenient shorthand for "see advantage in," or more precisely, "see such great advantage as to cause one to abandon one's homeland for an uncertain fate far away." I laud the notion that migrants are attracted to America for many motives, including political, economic, and personal, but the net effect is the same: they are racing to America. I can think of few metrics that more succinctly rate a nation's standing than that. And it certainly puts the lie to the notion of universal "hatred" of America.

Anyway, back to playing the ball rather than the man:

It was important to establish that Miller is no more an expert in this area than you or I, hence his opinions are no more or less credible. None of us should be swayed by anything but the content* of his arguments. If we have established that, then by all means, back to the ball.

(*Now, to the extent that I find any content, it is shoddy: Miller's thesis is that "the rest of the world hates Americans so much." That thesis is both offensive and more importantly, refuted by a few minutes' research.)

The major problem I have with this guy's work is that consumerist capitalism is not uniquely American nor contemporary ...

Excellent point. Japan is vastly more consumerist than the US, yet Japan is neither the object of global terror, nor of such offensive, carping essays.

Ash's suggested researches would be far more interesting and fruitful, IMO, than the tired and ill-documented America-bashing Miller offers up.
posted by Hieronymous Coward at 4:24 PM on January 17, 2002


" ... Ash's suggested researches would be far more interesting and fruitful, IMO, than the tired and ill-documented America-bashing Miller offers up ..."

Well actually, I suspect this probably would not be interesting at all - since the basic idea is utterly idiotic ... I mean, seriously, the basic truth is that while very, very few rich people (across cultures and cebturies) have ever desired to be poor (which they could accomplish quite easily), immense numbers of poor people have definately desired (and desire) to be rich.
posted by MidasMulligan at 6:41 PM on January 17, 2002


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