Tuesday, March 01, 2005

When the Grass Seems Greener

I can see a dog run from where I'm studying on the top floor of the school library. There's something so uninhibited about those dogs, the way they all seem to just live for chasing each other around or going after a tossed frisbee. I think in New York City especially, people have a hard time accepting a limit to what they need in order to be happy.

[An hour later...] There was an article in the New York Times this past Sunday titled "Six Figures? Not Enough!", about how people used to aim for a yearly salary of $100,000. Nowadays, however, some people find that $100,000 just doesn't have the cache that it used too. More people are earning $100,000 per year and it doesn't support the lifestyle that they want. Economist Robert H. Frank is cited in the article as saying, "A lot of people think this is about spoiled people who can't keep up with the Joneses, but it's really deeper than that. There's a consumption standard that every group has. If you ask, 'How am I doing?,' it's always, 'Compared to what?' And people hardly ever look down." I wonder though if for many people, they will never feel that they have enough.

I'm thinking here about a term that I learned in college, "anomic suicide," from the book Suicide by Emile Durkheim. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, anomic--in the social sciences--means "a condition of social instability or personal unrest resulting from a breakdown of standards and values or from a lack of purpose or ideals."

The way I understood it, people who committed suicide due to anomie did so because they did not think they could ever be happy. For example, and this is my own example so I might be wrong, homeless people might think they'd achieve happiness if only they had an apartment. For someone living in an apartment, owning a home would mean happiness. Someone with a one-story house might want a two-story house. Someone with a two-story house might want a mansion. Someone with a mansion might think happiness would come with having that second home in Aspen. Etc. In this way, a person might never be happy because there's always something else to want, just out of reach. But the fact is that one cannot have everything.

Back to my point, I envy dogs because they're happy just being who they are and being in their pack. They might "have" toys or fluffy beds, but they're not devastated (as far as I know) if they lose something. I wish I could also be happy if I was stripped of everything that I own.

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Blogger Vivian Darkbloom said...

My guess is that shooting for $100,000/year is not the goal for most Americans. It's pretty obvious for whom this article was written--it's priveledged perspective is rather obnoxious.

5:38 PM  
Blogger mlliu said...

You're right, and I think that's the danger of being in a place like New York City. You start to lose perspective of what the rest of the country is like and what the people are like elsewhere. That's why I find reading the NYT Real Estate section depressing. Whenever I do, I think, there's got to be a better way. The American dream of owning a home shouldn't have to involve going through nasty co-op boards and compromising on important liveability issues.

8:27 PM  

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