If you want to be happpy, marriage, family, & friendship matter way more than money. In The Loss of Happiness in Market Democracies, Robert Lane’s argument is that market societies induce people to spend their time and energy acquiring greater material wealth at the expense of companionship, and, as a consequence, happiness suffers.
But if companionship makes us happier than stuff, why don’t we demand more companionship and less stuff? Lane seems to hypothesize that there is a diffference in the salience of satisfaction that biases us in favor of stuff. I found this interesting:
Adaptation is the key. If people can adapt to the chronic absence of their arms and legs [ww: as opposed to their temporary or intermittent absence?]– as they do — they will also adapt to absence of friendship, and it is this adaptation that accounts for the lack of demand by the lonely for friends. But, as with the elderly, this adaptation may have a hidden cost, for “the presence of a familiar person lowers blood pressure under stress, [and] . . . people whose heart rates rise more in [certain] experiments have high blood pressure two to 15 years later, whether or not they acknowledge being under stress or feeling intense emotion
What I take Lane to be saying is that companionship adds a subtle positive tone to experience, and we report ourselves much happier when our experience is shot through with that tone. The positive tone is the correlate of an objective organic good. (Not clear the way the causation goes here.) But the quality of the experience is subtle, the source is not easily attributable, and we quickly adapt to its absence, and so are not easily motivated to seek out its cause.
The hedonic surge from material consumption, however, is intense and immediate, and its source is easily attributable. However, due to habituation to the presence of new stuff, there is little lasting satisfaction from consumption. We’d be better off cultivating our relationships. However, because the fleeting hedonic payoff of consumption is more psychologically salient, we’re more easily moved to go for a fresh consumption high. Thus, we’ll tend to make ourselves less happy, and less healthy, as we consume.
Do you find this convincing?