The downside and upside of our ability to rationalize

We had another discussion last night about how happy the people in the villages seem to be, in spite of hunger, unstable water supply, long days of labor for low wages, etc. This time someone brought up how shallow it seems that rich people get upset over things that, to the poor people, sound ridiculous, like the wireless being down or not having enough money to purchase some new toy. Anyone who's read Daniel Gilbert's book "Stumbling on Happiness" would know the amazing power of the human brain to rationalize and adjust to new circumstances. The band of possible human conditions is much wider than the band of human emotion; people near the top are only a little bit happier than people near the bottom. Paraplegics report higher levels of happiness than normal people, despite not having the use of their legs. If we couldn't adjust, then people who've scaled the heights of income and status would just walk around in a halo of golden, happy feelings, and people who are desperately poor would be despondent and depressed all of the time. That world state is definitely worse than our current one. People who live in conditions absolutely and materially much worse than those in the West have a chance to be happy. On the flipside, though, people in the West who live in historic material and absolute comfort have a chance to experience sadness, and because their lives aren't filled with drama such as "will I be able to get a gallon of water today, or three?" this sadness always seems shallow, even though the feeling is surely real. The ability of poor people to be extremely happy and the ability of rich people to be extremely sad are flip sides of the same token, I believe. I'm not sure you could have one without having the other. This tradeoff has been positive on net for the human condition.

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