Happiness is not like ice cream. When I eat a spoonful of ice cream from the quart in the fridge I’m taking that spoonful away from the rest of my family. Happiness isn’t like that, if I’m a bit more happy it doesn’t follow that the rest of my family is denied some happiness.
Economists, who like most scientists would rather make up complex terms than steal ice cream from their children, have a term for that. Ice cream is a rival good, and happiness as a non-rival good.
Men are very clever at converting non-rival goods into rival goods. I figure this is because they spent years locked sibling rivalry. “I’m taller than you.” “Oh, yeah, well I’m thinner.” “So, what’s so great about thin!”
I gather that those clever scientists have discovered that people like to win! Amazing huh? People like it when they are top dog. Apparently these scientists didn’t stop there. Nope. They also discovered that people don’t like being losers.
I find it fascinating to realize that if you take a group of people and rank them then you make a few winners happy, and you make the entire rest of the group unhappy. Scientists have shown that it’s true! Some people have called this the “polution” of success, a provocative metaphore eh?
So your happiness (a non-rival good) can be effected by your rank (a rival good). Which is probably a good thing. At least, it causes you to strive toward bigger and better. Scientists support that, particularly Darwin I presume.
There is an unpredictable bit though. What domain do you pick to engage in this rivalry? If any. How about … Best flower garden in the neighborhood? Daughter with the best manners? You have a lot of control over your own happiness if you can selecting something with minimal rivalry. You could be the guy on the baseball team that always shows up on time and drives everybody to the bar afterward. That’s what makes teams thrive.
In fact it’s well known that the quickest way to lay waste to team work is to publish everybody’s salary.
My evil sons, upon hearing these ideas, immediately put them to work attempting to make each other unhappy.
Clearly they set their sights to low. You can make entire populations of people unhappy using by ranking them. For example we give everybody a standardized test. Like the SAT. We would need a name for this. Accountability sounds good.
The twits in this world that strive to get to the top of the heap are frustrated in two ways. Because happiness is nonrival you can take it from one person and give it to another. So if you make a lot of people unhappy you can’t bank the happiness you took from them. You will get to have a bit of pleasure in improving your rank; but even that’s a mixed blessing. Once you have achieved a high rank you also get a bundle of anxiety with the role. Since high ranks are very scarce, i.e. rival, your have to worry all the time that your bubble with burst.