I teach a course here at the university called Tightwaddery, the Good Life on a Dollar a Day. It’s what we call an honours class, a two-credit evening class and it’s both serious and somewhat light-hearted. We read Epicurus, we read Thoreau, we read articles about consumerism and advertising. We also do classes on personal finance, and there’s some jokey classes, like one where the students learn to cut each other’s hair. There’s a banquet at the end of the term, where everybody has to produce a meal very cheaply, from a Depression-era recipe. That aspect of Stoicism, the getting by on little, eschewing unnecessary luxuries, husbanding your resources, that’s definitely me. I’m very averse to spending unnecessary money, although I’ll spend money on the things I value, like travelling…I never have my students cut each others' hair, though last week in my environmental ethics class, we did do a bottled water taste test. Unfortunately, it backfired. All but one student could tell the difference between Fiji and tap water.
The interview with Emrys Westacott comes with five excellent "good life" reading suggestions.
(via Russell Blackford)
Just to play devil's advocate... I live in the CA Bay Area, and there are lots of rich people in the area, I'm definitely not one of them. And sure there are plenty of rich people who are not as happy as they'd like to be, but there are also plenty of rich people who are plenty happy. Probably a greater percentage of people who are rich, seem pretty happy compared to those who are not wealthy.
So why is there this pervasive belief that wealth is not a good vehicle for happiness?
I mean Epicurus is worried about losing everything in a storm or earthquake... The self-sufficient would be able to recover quickly... The rich would have their material possessions that give them happiness destroyed... But.... in our day and age, wealth isn't material anymore. Its a number in a computer somewhere. The tornado blows through, and you rebuild with insurance money.
No doubt there are other concerns that factor in like ethics, and environmental concerns, but I think the happiness angle might be a little overblown.
I think the evidence shows wealth does increase happiness--it just doesn't increase it as much as you might have thought. So if you're looking for happiness, your primary focus should be on something else. Sounds right to me. I am definitely happier now than I was in my early 20s, when I once spent my last $5 in the world on a can of roach spray.
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