This is the best article I’ve read on the relationship between income, autonomy, status, and happiness. It happens to be from the Onion. Best bit:
Braxton, who earns roughly one-fourth of what the firm’s lowest-seniority full-time employees make, said he has no desire to make his coworkers feel bad about their “boring, shitty lives.”
“If somebody complains about how bad it sucks to work overtime five days straight, I just nod and agree,” said Braxton, who spends his weeknights at parties, at concerts, and playing basketball in the park. “No point in rubbing in the fact that no matter how busy things are, I leave at exactly 5 p.m. every single day. If anyone asks me to stay later, I just say my agency doesn’t let me do overtime.”
After graduating from Wesleyan University in May 2000 with a degree in Russian literature, Braxton worked a series of part-time jobs in and around Boston. In December 2001, he signed on with QualiTemps, the city’s largest supplier of temporary office labor, which currently pays him $8.44 per hour.
“I have so much going on in my life right now,” Braxton said. “I’m helping a friend start up a little Cajun food stand, I’ve gotten way into this Russian poet Mayakovsky, I’ve been hanging out with this really cool girl I met when my band, Sophie Drillteam, did a show with hers. Honestly, I just don’t have the time or energy to put into some job.”
In spite of his happiness, Braxton said he makes sure always to project an air of dissatisfaction, in both facial expression and posture, while in the office.
Income and position in the office hierarchy are far from the only dimensions of satisfying status. And don’t miss the larger lesson: Braxton’s ability to live a deeply engaging, self-directed, creative, relatively low-income lifestyle is a side-effect of overall abundance. He is, in effect, free-riding off the miserable productivity of his co-workers and people like them. Liberal arts degrees, obscure Russian poets, and vanity bands are for rich people. Being rich and personally having a large income are completely different things.