When Things Get Too Good Too Fast

How can a person decide if he is rich or poor?  And how can a person decide if he should be happy or sad?  Are there specific pitfalls that we tend to encounter when trying to perceive the answers to these questions?

Overall Quality of Life

Lets think about how we perceive our overall Quality of Life.  If there is a Steady Slow Improvement (SSI) then most people are happy. But if there is a Rapid Large Improvement (RLI), we tend to quickly become acclimated to the new higher standard of living.

When a RLI is followed by a Sudden Drop in Quality of Life, most people react with strong unhappiness.  And this tendency holds true even when the RLI + Sudden Drop leaves the individual still well above where they were before the RLI, and well above where they might have been if they had only experienced SSI.

Too Good Too Fast (3)

So what explains this phenomenon?  It has to do with the way in which we tend to perceive things and how we set our “Minimum Acceptable” standards.  Once these standards have been established they become a baseline from which we make future decisions about the worthwhile-ness of happiness and gratitude.

The Advance of  Technology

The advance of human technology and the overall standard of living over the last 100 years is a good example of this, when you compare it against recent (relatively minor) downturns in fortune – for example, a period of high unemployment.

And this explains why most people (not everyone, but most) will say that, if they could choose any decade to live in (out of the last 100 years), then most people would choose the decade of 2010. That is because technology has so strongly improved our quality of life that a poor person (in 2010) is, in many concrete ways, much better off than a rich person from almost any earlier decade.

20 Year Waves Of Improvement (4)

This is probably easier to visualize when we look at things from the perspective of larger blocks of time – for example centuries. Clearly, a poor person in 2010 is fabulously better off than a rich person from 1910, 1810, 1710, etc.

The Perception of Wealth and Poverty

In fact, the difference between the perception of the Quality of Life of a poor person in 2010 versus that of a rich person in 1910 might mainly have to do with the way in which their social beliefs drove their self-image (i.e., “I am considered rich (in 1910), therefore I feel good about myself” versus “I am considered poor (in 2010), therefore I feel bad about myself.”

And maybe this explains what my mother and father meant when they told me:  “We were poor when we were growing up, but we just didn’t know it – so we never felt poor. We always had enough to eat and clothes to wear and a roof over our heads and families that loved us.”

Which makes me wonder if they really were poor?

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13 Responses to When Things Get Too Good Too Fast

  1. PAL says:

    Poor, Middle-Class or Wealthy?

    I dreampt about a questionnaire
    There were only three questions there:
    Namely: How would God describe me?
    Poor, Middle-Class or Wealthy?
    But I couldn’t say what His choice would be
    Since, each one does describe me.

    (Used by permission from NumberBuilder)

  2. Absurdity And The Charity Time-Machine

    What is it that causes a person to be suitable as a client of charity? A lot of that determination of “being suitable as a client of charity” has to do with the would-be giver’s assessment of the current quality of life of the would-be recipient of charity. Normally that is determined by gauging a person’s income and pre-existing resources against the cost to the would-be client of paying to maintain their own needs. So, importantly, “needs” are usually measured as food, clothing and shelter and the current “minimum” standard of living. And that explains why a poor person in 2014 often has a flat screen tv, cable and an airconditioner (or two.)

    The Standard of Living

    When using these extra “minimum standard of living” criteria, we would judge the richest person in the world (from 50 years ago) to be suitable as a client of charity – as viewed from our present perspective. But that is absurd.

    Now let’s imagine that a charity time-machine could be invented. We would find ourselves in the very odd state in which we would judge the rich from previous generations to be suitable as recipients of charity, and the poor from future generations would be expected to donate to them! Again, though, that is absurd.

    The reason that it seems absurd that a rich person of yesteryear would be considered a suitable recipient of charity (from the perspective of the future) is that the rich person was, at the time, rich. Yet the clarity is there that their quality of life was significantly under-developed.

    What is Money?

    The resolution of these conflicting ideas revolves around the idea of the meaning of money. Money is really just a tool for trading. But that trading is only meaningful to the extent that trade-able items exist. So, for example, if a rich person is drowning, then a life-preserver suddenly becomes very valuable to him. But if there is no one there to offer to sell the life-preserver, then the wealth of the rich person becomes a bit meaningless. (Actually more than just a bit.)

    So, really the charity time-machine would have to have a bit of a twist to it. In that the charitable items being delivered to the rich of yesteryear would need to be paid for by the recipients. But isn’t that what the market already does today for the (relatively) poor? In other words, we are all dependent upon the existence of the marketplace to maintain our quality of living.


    • Wealth has two components – one is “my basic needs and wants are met with a healthy security margin (say 99.99% guaranteed for the next 20 years).”. And the second component is a social construct – “I have better stuff than 99% of the population.”. These definitions have been true over long periods of time and technology and standard of living.

    • Anonymous says:

      Tis better to rule in hell then to serve in heaven – maybe that’s the explanation?

  3. PAL says:

    What Proportion Of Quality Of Life Is Due To Technology?

    This raises a very interesting question: How much of your overall quality of life do you consider to be attributable to technology? So, for example, if you permanently lost your internet connection, how much of an impact would it have on your self-assessment of your overall quality of life? (Presumably, loosing the internet would be something that would subtract from your overall quality of life?) And then, lets ask the same questions in regards to each of the major technologies that have become relatively cheap / affordable during each of the last 10 decades: Cell phones (2000), cars (1920), air conditioners (1960), electricity (1930/1940), television (1960), medicine (significant advances have occurred during every decade).

    Alternatively, how much of your overall quality of life would you attribute to the “free” things – like your health, family, friends, free-time, etc?

    • Quality Of Life As A Community-Based Perception?

      Alternatively: what pctg of quality of life is due to the community- based perception that “I am considered to be rich within the context of my community”? I suspect that that is a good chunk of it.

  4. Does Everyone Value Education Equally?

    A non-politically correct question. But the answer is obvious. Think about Disposable Income and “Disposable Time”. Do all cultural environments equally urge that DI and DT should be equally, fractionally allocated to education? Put another way – when is the last time that you read a book with the end in mind that the book was going to teach you something materially useful in terms of moving the ball with you career? My conjecture is that the answer will vary widely depending on your culture.

  5. Hypocrisy, Morality & Changing Perceptions

    When a parent tells his child do as I say, not as I do, the child may perceive that instruction as hypocritical. So, is it hypocritical? And does that make any difference as to the value of the parent’s advice?

    Hypocrisy – does it makes a person’s advice better or worse or it is irrelevant?

    There is a perverse tendency to attempt to perceive things in a way that makes me out to be the good guy and still allows me to do what I want to do anyway. And the up/down better/worse example of hypocrisy is actually just a single example of a wide class of logical fallacies which are used to justify doing what I already wanted to do anyway.

  6. PAL says:

    Who Deserves The Quality Of Life Improvement Due To Technology?

    Imagine this scenario. An inventor develops a new technology which everyone wants to own. For example, think about the inventions of TV’s, car’s, cell phones, etc.

    So, once the invention comes to market, nearly everyone wants to purchase it. And once people have it, they, eventually, perceive their ownership of the new toy as a crucial component to their personal definition of their quality of life. In other words, if the new toy is taken away from them (i.e., the power goes out) they consider that the drop in their quality of life is overwhelming.

    For example, many people would rather give up sex than give up their internet access: CNN.

    Two Ways of Perceiving the Quality of Life

    So there are two ways in which such an individual’s self-perception of their quality of life changes due to the introduction of the new invention. The first way is Relative (or percentage-wise) and the second way is Absolute. The Relative improvement in Self-Perception of Quality of Life (SPQL) means that the individual now considers that the new toy (lets say the internet) is responsible for 30% of their over-all life satisfaction. The Absolute improvement in SPQL means that, the SPQL itself has grown.

    The danger, of course, is that our Minimum Acceptable Quality of Life quickly adjusts to the new, higher standard (as mentioned in the article.)

    Getting back to the title of this comment – there is probably an important sense in which many people would be willing to make a trade to reduce the total universe of purchasable-items available to them in exchange for an increase in quality of the smaller remaining universe of purchasable-items available to them.

    Menu Items: Cell Phones Versus Exotic Foods

    For example, you can think back to the time before you purchased your first cell phone. At that point in your life, would you have been willing to limit your available universe of foods (say by taking out one item that you do not often eat – like coconuts) in exchange for expanding your available menu of technology items (by adding in a cell-phone to your available universe of technology)? I think that most people would be happy to make that trade.

    We could think of this as “All the good things in life.” Think of two classes – the rich-inventor and the poor-consumer. If the SPQL for the poor-consumer increases one-thousand-fold, but the SPQL for the rich-inventor increases one-million-fold, then is that still fair? Or should the poor-consumer demand a more balanced improvement?

  7. Cut this:
    So there can be un-happiness in the RLI + Sudden Drop scenario but happiness in the scenario in which there has “only” been a SSI.  And this is true even when the SSI results in a net standard of living considerably below the standard if living that came out of the RLI + Sudden Drop.

  8. PAL says:

    This would make a nice cartoon:

    … the difference between the perception of the Quality of Life of a poor person in 2010 versus that of a rich person in 1910 might mainly have to do the way in which their social beliefs drove their self-image (i.e., “I am considered rich (in 1910), therefore I feel good about myself” versus “I am considered poor (in 2010), therefore I feel bad about myself.”

  9. gpsestereo says:

    Griefers are just out for adverse focus, and also you provide them exactly what they’re seeking if you
    interact with them.

  10. Anonymous says:

    After the Breakup (Part 2)

    You don’t like to speak with me. Because you know that I always challenge you about your core decisions. I think that that challenge bothers you for two reasons. One reason is that you know that I have a valid point. The other reason is that you are not willing to countenance the prospect of change. But you tell yourself that the real reason is just that I am an overbearing bore or unkind prick. Another part of you (your true self) says: “So what if he is? That may even be what I actually need.”

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