As Groucho Marx once said, “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.” Rich people do tend to be happier than poor people, according to sociologists?but only if they’re richer than their (rich) neighbors. We all want to be able to keep up with the Joneses; the problem is, we all have different “Joneses.” Money only buys happiness if it buys you a better life than the people you’re in competition with, and no one else counts. This is why Enron executives were so surprised when no one wept for them when they were forced to sell their expensive vacation homes. It also explains why CEOs keep demanding astronomical sums of money, even though they already have more than they can spend in a lifetime.

Sociologist Glen Firebaugh says, “Rather than promoting overall happiness, continued income growth could promote an ongoing consumption race where individuals consume more and more just to maintain a constant level of happiness.”

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