Does where you live affect your happiness?

Lindsay Beach period 1- Does a man who lives in a poor country like Nigeria and experiences more scarcity than abundance live a happier life than a man who lives an abundant life in the United States?

Abundance and Scarcity are two things that are explored by many philosophers, with the goal of attaining information as to which one is better and leads to a happier society or community.  Abundance means a very large amount of something and scarcity nearly means the opposite, shortage.  Wouldn’t having more of something obviously bring more happiness to an individual?  The answer to this question according to Frederic Bastiat is yes in most situations.

Frederic Bastiat states “that scarcity is the basis of man’s well-being.”[1] In saying this, wouldn’t people infer that scarcity is better than abundance?  Is having more ice cream worse than having less? Later in his writing, he explains that the government enforces abundance more than scarcity because in the end, having more is better. [2] When people lack different important items in the world, they realize how much little things are taken for granted.  For example, a roll of toilet paper is something that most households in America have and most don’t think anything of it.  In several parts of Nigeria, toilet paper is a product that is not commonly used because the prices are high and so is the demand therefore causing people to constantly be spending money on this single product when there are other natural resources they feel can be used instead.  In realizing the importance of common items, like toilet paper, a man becomes more humble as things are no longer taken for granted. Although the man is humble in this situation, his life is affected negatively.  Although something as little as toilet paper is being compared the man in the poor country does not get access to a human necessity.

Don’t people say the more the merrier?  According to Frederic in his writing of Economic Sophisms, he carries this out.  “When products are overproduced or when outside countries produce a greater amount of good things than another country, abundance is feared.” [3] Abundance is feared in this situation because when outside forces are more successful it creates the opportunity of the other country to fail.  Although foreign producers run this risk of damaging the other country, in the end, it helps provide abundance in products, which Frederic argues is good.   In these situations, it is reasonable as to why people would fear abundance, but take the scenario of a man who lives in a poor country and experiences more scarcity than abundance verses a man who lives in the United States and lives an abundant life, wouldn’t the man living in the United States be happier?  Frederic doesn’t state that abundance is what makes people happy, he simply explains that abundance is healthy for the economy.[4]  When we think of happiness, we often directly relate pleasure.  We could argue that having abundance in things that brings us pleasure make us happy, although Aristotle will disagree. When eating your favorite food and watching your favorite movie these things make you happy by bringing you pleasure.  Aristotle completely disagrees and thinks that pleasures don’t bring happiness. [5]

How does pleasure and happiness relate to scarcity and abundance?  When we have abundance in things, happiness is attained, but abundance could be known as a pleasure, so does abundance truly make us happy?  For example when have a lot of money we can buy more things and through this we are happier.  Aristotle states that happiness comes from character and virtue and that pleasure, in the end, is more of a negative aspect than a positive aspect in most lives. [6] When a man lives in a poor country like Nigeria, he often won’t receive many materialistic items that bring him pleasure. He doesn’t get to experience owning a brand new Lexus or buying a nice big house. Although the man living in Nigeria doesn’t have much, he finds great happiness through different pleasures like watching the animals roam through the wild.  Although his pleasures might not be as abundant or materialistic as a man in the United States, his happiness could be greater.  The economy and way of life for the poor man is not going to be as stable as that of a man who lives in the United States and not having a steady economy could take a toll on the poor man’s happiness.

If we agree with Aristotle and the fact that happiness is derived from virtue and character then who would achieve more happiness, the man in Nigeria or the man living in the United States? Both sides could be fought, as a man who lives in a poor country is more humble and has built his character on the fact that he doesn’t have much and therefore is grateful for everything he does have.  A man living in the United States has the opportunity to experience more situations where morality and virtues are tested.  He is prone to several situations that test and build his character as he has the capability to interact with many others.  Aristotle explains that virtue is strengthened through training therefore a man who deals with more interactions that can test his virtues would end up living a happier life. [7]

Going back to the writing of Frederic, dealing with scarcity and abundance, he explains that the battle between scarcity and abundance is similar to that of sellers and buyers, the producer and consumer, or low wages and high wages. [8] All of these would not exist if the other thing had not been created.  For example, if sellers did not exist then there would no buyers or if producers did not exist then there would be no consumers.  Similarly, abundance and scarcity would not exist without the other.  If products were never in abundance, we would just assume that everything was the same and scarcity would not be in effect.  If there had always been a great amount of something then that would be become normal and would not be considered abundant.  Some people own an abundance of cars, but if people all owned one car then there would be no such as having an abundance of cars or facing scarcity and not having one.  How does this point relate back to the situation dealing with the man in a poor country verses a man in the United States? We are comparing two different situations, but if either of these men did not exist then the question presented would be completely different.  The man living Nigeria realizes that he does not have many of the things the man who lives in the United States has, but if the man in the United States did not have things in abundance then the poor man would not know that he deals with the scarcity of products every day.  Throughout this paragraph, all these pairs are related and rely upon one another to exist.  Through Frederic Bastiat writing, he makes the reader realize the importance of individual aspects that help carry out its opposite pair.

Frederic never gives a direct answer as to which makes an individual happier, but he does make it known that to consumers abundance is better, and for producers scarcity is better.  When things are scarce, the producer can raise the price and when things are abundant the consumer is going to be able to buy more for less. When people have the opportunity to buy more because it is abundant, they could achieve more happiness. For example, if the price of ray ban sunglasses went down because there was an abundance of them, more people would buy multiple pairs. The demand for sunglasses is high so if there was a shortage of sunglasses that company could raise the price and make a greater profit off one pair.  Because Frederic doesn’t give a direct answer, we can turn back to Aristotle and use his words to help give a better idea.  Aristotle says that “happiness is believed to be the most desirable thing in the world, and not merely as one among other good things.”[9] In saying this, he is saying that we don’t gain happiness by the addition of other things. We desire to have more but desiring multiple things does not mean we achieve final happiness in the end.  The man in the poor country does not see much of what other people have and therefore is pleased and content with what he has.  A man in the United States constantly sees what others have and becomes jealous.  For example, going to a school like Ursuline, we constantly see what other girls have.  Whether it is the car a girl drives or the jewelry a girl is wearing, we are always wanting what others have that we don’t.  In a poor country, they also can face jealously, but because they don’t have as much there are fewer things to want that you don’t have.  Achieving happiness does not mean to have more than another person, nor does it mean to have less.  A poor man has the opportunity of being happier than a man who is well off, but a man who is well off also has the opportunity to achieve more happiness than the man who lives in the poor country.  Looking at a single nation and the factors of different classes, is a man who lives in the middle class happier than a man in a lower class even though they live in the same nation?  The answer to this is the same of a man living in Nigeria verses America.  Happiness is not dependent on pleasures or abundance or scarcity.  We cannot decipher based of the readings of Aristotle and Bastiat whether a man in different classes but the same nation, or men of two different nations is happier than the other.

[1] “A Petition,” Frederic Bastiat in How to Find Happiness Without a Free Lunch, ed. Mr. Aparicio, Ursuline Academy, 2015.

[2] Bastiat

[3] Bastiat

[4] Bastiat

[5] “Nicomachean Ethics,” Aristotle in How to Find Happiness Without a Free Lunch, ed. Mr. Aparicio, Ursuline Academy, 2015.

[6] Aristotle

[7] Aristotle

[8] Bastiat

[9] Aristotle


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