mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Materialism, Happiness, and stuff

The WSJ has a really interesting article about how the US is the most depressed country of the 14 surveyed. The least depressed? Nigeria.

It's interesting, because for my international IT class that I took last year involved picking a country and finding out what IT looked like in it. Being the iconoclast that I am, plus having recived lots of spam from them, I picked Nigeria. My research seemed to suggest that Nigeria is, quite frankly, f'ed up - 5% of the country has AIDS, the average life span is around 54 years, and the military has taken to carjacking people for cash. Doesn't sound too cheerful to me.

But as the WSJ article points out, if you are struggling for survival, and winning, then you see that as sucess and are happy. If you have all the comforts of life, you have the time and luxury to look for meaning in your life - and if you don't find it, you are unhappy, even though your life is probably cushier and more secure than most of the world.

It's an interesting subject, and relevant. I was talking to a coworker over dinner a few days ago and complaining about, well, something, and he said something to the effect of "Well, you should be happy. I mean, you've got a secure job and a house and a truck and almost have your MBA".

Which is true. But who wants to judge their life, their accomplishments, by what they own? (well, I guess rappers do). You could argue that possesions signal two things - hard work and taste. Making a large purchase generally means that you've put a lot of time/effort into working for it, and made wise financial decisions. The possesions that you own also signal your taste, that you know what good things are, that you can pick the best - although I'm not sure too many people consider my bright yellow pickup as in good taste.

Even the MBA that I'll get, if I can ever get off my ass and write the paper that's due next week, is more a signal than something with intrinsic value. Employers look at college degrees more as a signaling mechanism that you have the work ethic to get through college than as a way to assure that you know certain things. I don't really feel like my MBA is any sort of accomplishment - it just means that I've gone to some classes and turned in some papers. But that may be enough - except for the fact that I have no plans to switch jobs, and there are no real promotion opportunities where I work -ever, so I don't really have anyone to signal anything to.

Posessions are nice, and they can be fun. It's nice compare, say,
your net worth to those in your age/income bracket
(you can calculate your net worth here), but few people want to be remembered after they die as the person who had a net worth that was considerably higher than their peer group. They want to be remembered as someone who was good, who did good. They want the higher things on the heirarchy of needs. Sure, food and shelter and pooping and security are on there, but so are esteem, confidence, friendship, sexual intimacy, morality.

Part of what keeps me down is comparing myself to other people - there are always people who have more money than me, who are smarter, who are in better shape (and are usually on the eliptical machine next to me, moving their legs at speeds I didn't think were humanly possible). Focusing on bettering myself for my own sake - to be better than I was, not better than everyone else - would probably make me happier.

But the fact that I seem to be destined to being single brings is a source of unhappyness for me as well. The fact that I don't seem to be accepted makes me feel that there's something wrong with me - and I always hope that if I lose a little more weight or make a little more money or buy a nicer car that that will help. It hasn't so far, and it never will. There are things I need to deal with - lack of self-esteem, an unwillingness to take risks - that I need to fix - but it's sort of a vicious cycle - I can't be confident if I feel rejected, but I'll always be rejected if I'm not confident.

Maybe this would be easier if I lived in Nigeria.


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