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The law Of Diminishing Utility Applied To Materialistic Happiness

#Happiness 101 for materialists: The law of diminishing marginal utility proves that temperance beats gluttony each time. (http://nyti.ms/PtFC7T).  Don’t Indulge. Be Happy. – NYTimes.com.

Elizabeth Dunn, an associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, and Michael Norton, an associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, are authors of the book:

Happy Money: The Science of Spending.”

The authors define “happiness” in terms of quantifiable material comfort. In other words like going to the doctor’s and being able to tell that you feel 19,5 % pain or that your sorrow weighs 20 pounds.

Hence, the book, or at least the New York Times article about its message, is aimed at materialists: people who for example think that only when you have money and own many things, then you have a measure of happiness. People with this consumerism mentality account for an audience of  millions or billions.

The NY Times article informs these believers (and in many cases, worshippers) of material comfort through money, that there’s a limit to the utility of consumption power.  The article agrees inasmuch as that the money “rich” are happier than the consumption “poor” and therefore some money is better than low consumption credit. The big clarification and addition is that after a specific amount of “income”, the happiness effect starts fading. This is proven by statistical examples of the law of diminishing marginal utility.

The moral of the article and book  may be necessary to emphasize to those who have never recognized that a person can only sleep in so many beds or eat so many plates of “luxury” foods at the same time.

Put into more classical perspectives and language, the research findings highlight that: Prudence beats Greed – and Temperance beats Gluttony – every time.

As a sidenote, the authors, Professor Dunn and Norton, seek to introduce a new word to the colloquial vocabulary: “Underindulgence”.

The reason why it can’t be found in a dictionary is very likely because of its redundancy. The virtues which Plato and Aristotle introduced: prudence and temperance, hold the same meaning. The classical meanings are even deeper and more comprehensive. It would only regress mankind’s cognitive advancement if we keep adapting language as acts of compromise to superficial “modern”  (contemporary) ignorance.

Plato, for example, recognized four cardinal virtues: Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude. Catholic philosophers added three theological virtues: Faith, Hope and Charity. As with most words, the etymological meaning of these have been perverted, subverted and “watered down”.

The universal principles confirmed by the authors in modern materialistic terms touch upon insights which have been described across history and cultures. Regardless of outlook on life (Atheism, Buddhism, Islam etc…) these two following traits have been considered requisite elements for living a full life:

  • Prudence – the ability to know the difference between right and wrong, between a wise action and an unwise one.
  • Temperance – self-control and moderation of  the yearning for pleasures and delights.

These universal guiding forces can be applied to materialism and consumerism through the law of diminishing marginal utility; which the research by professor Elizabeth Dunn and professor Michael Norton, proves (whether intentionally or indirectly). Possession and consumption for the sake of comfort does simply not equal happiness.  Sharing a meal with loved ones in a modest setting beats eating 50 servings alone in a palace. The enjoyment of the latter gets old really quick (as illuminated by the law of diminishing marginal utility).

Business philosopher and entrepreneur Mats Lederhausen summed up the article’s findings with the following comment: “Happiness is wanting what you have“, which is quite different from “having what you want“. In essence: “Life is about giving“.


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