In spite of all the wealth creation and technological progress we have experienced in recent times, the real stickler is that most people seem unhappier than ever.
This is not just an observation: According to the results of the World Values Survey and the General Social Survey of the National Opinion Research Center, "people have grown continuously more depressed over the last half-century." (Psychology Today, April 2011).
And the depression and unhappiness that we are suffering as a society has been linked to overinflated and unrealistic expectations.
I guess the average home size of approximately 2,400 square feet, more than DOUBLE that of fifty years ago, hasn't made that much difference in people's level of happiness.
Why? Because we focus on what we don't have, instead of what do have. Marketers take advantage of this by selling, for example, the iPad 2 three months after everyone just got the iPad for the holiday. (Thanks SNL!)
Reminds me of a timeless Jewish saying: "Who is rich? He who is happy with his portion." (Talmud: Avot 4:1) -- Then again, the Cossacks taking all of our stuff didn't help the situation any :-)
Psychologist Tim Kasser states: "The more people focus on the materialist pathway to happiness, the less happy they tend to be."
And more forebodingly, "The less happy they make others."--Can anyone say "50% divorce rate and rising?"
Writing about America in the early 19th century, the French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville already observed: "I know of no other country where love of money has such a grip on men's hearts."
I remember growing up in a modest way, but walking past all the mansions in the community regularly. In my mind I lived "on the other side of town." On the one hand, this was motivating to me in the sense that I felt like I could "make it" too. On the other hand, thinking about it left me feeling empty, because materialism was not what I believed to be REALLY important. I still don't.
Over time, I came to see money practically, for what it was: a way of paying the bills. But my true passion lay elsewhere. Commitment to G-d, family and nation, and productive hard work in its own right--is more meaningful and joyful to me.
Today, I still enjoy looking at the mansions on Bravo's Millionaire Listing or HGTV. But I only let myself do that when I'm working out on the treadmill!