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Non-Affluence and Happiness

September 23, 2011

[T]here is little reason to believe that the consumption-based lifestyles that define an American ideal of affluence really contribute consistently to life satisfaction and successful community.  But here I want to focus on the other end of this set of assumptions: the idea that non-affluent people and communities are necessarily less happy, less satisfied, and less integrated around a set of civic and spiritual values…

Consider village life in Spain or Italy, for example, where many families still live on incomes that are a fraction of American affluence, who incorporate gardens into their regular lifestyle and household economy, and who enjoy admirable levels of personal and social satisfaction. Or think of stable farming communities in India or Africa that have successfully achieved a balance of farm productivity, a degree of social equality, and a strong sense of community. Or consider examples of communities in the United States that have deliberately put together lives and communities that reject “affluence” as a social and personal ideal.

Of course it’s true that extreme poverty is pretty much incompatible with satisfaction and community. Malnutrition, illiteracy, and untreated disease are counterparts of extrme poverty and destroy happiness and community. But “non-affluence” isn’t the same as extreme poverty.

So here’s the crux:

So here is a fairly profound question: what steps can be taken to promote the features of personal wellbeing and robust community relations that can make “non-affluence” a sustainable social ideal? And how can we help poor communities to strengthen their ability to nurture these positive values according to their own best instincts?

The always smart Daniel Little.  More here.

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