Will Wilkinson writes about happiness:
Now, it turns out that one's perception of one's place in the income distribution matters to happiness, such that people lower in the distribution are less happy in virtue of being lower in the distribution (or thinking they are). But, aside from total egalitarianism, which isn't likely to make anyone happy, there is nothing to be done about this.
I agree with him entirely that it’s one’s relative position in the income distribution, and not absolute income, that makes one happy or unhappy. (See my post Human nature, income, and status.) And I like how he used the word “perception,” because it’s perception that’s more important than reality. But I’m not so sure that I agree with his fatalistic position that “there is nothing to be done.” He’s purposely not being very creative.
I say that TV commercials are a major source of unhappiness because they show us all sorts of things that we can’t afford to buy. (Actually, I personally can afford to buy everything I see advertised on TV because TV ads are aimed at the bottom 90%, and if your income is in the top 10% you can afford to buy nearly anything you see if it’s important enough to you. But I remember what it used to be like not having any money, and it sure sucked.)
People were probably happier before TV because back then they didn’t know what they were missing out on.
As we move towards a marketing economy, unhappiness will probably increase because we will be told more often and more loudly about all the things we “need” to buy.
Read Michael Higgins’ post on this same topic.