I gave myself a big pat on the back yesterday for not getting triggered by either (a) Invasion Day, or (b) Grace Tame being awarded Australian of the Year. Instead, my attention was directed to a recanting of the widely-cited 2010 Princeton study which proposed that ‘money can’t buy happiness’. Shock me, because apparently it can!

Now imagine a chorus of 7.8 billion people shouting “No shit Sherlock!”

The 2010 Princeton study told us that peak-happiness coincides with an income of $75K which adjusted for inflation is now $92,325 USD ($119,109 AUD). Not a meager sum, but not a king’s ransom either. The study told us that once our needs are met, our sense of joy would not significantly increase with wealth.

Why? Because the problem with humans, see, is that we’re not happy with what we’ve got. Every ill of modern (and probably ancient) society is attributable to our doomed desire for more wealth to satiate our lust for more things. But this new study suggests that ‘more’ is relevant, and that happiness does not in fact plateau at $75K: “… proportional differences in income have a constant association with well-being regardless of income.

We all agree, but what the study does not explain is why.

Wealth provides a sense of being in control of your life, so maybe it’s that. Wealth reduces your sense of financial insecurity, so maybe it’s that. What we don’t know, though, and what the study failed to quantify is why “there does not appear to be any income level at which equating money and success was associated with greater experienced well-being.”

Shit examples aside, we need evidence.

Exhibit 1: the tv-reality series Bling Empire on Netflix. Forced to watch it by my wife, I’m yet to find a single character I wouldn’t set on fire just to watch them melt. I’m waiting for that moment (you know the one) where sheer vapidity somehow becomes mildly interesting. But it hasn’t happened yet. And that’s not saying there isn’t anything to occupy my attention…

All this show really confirms is my theory that the underlying disease infecting modern America is that all Americans think they’re somebody. Every single American, a celebrity in the making. At some tragi-comic moment in their lives, they all come to the epic realisation that they aren’t nearly as interesting as they think, and their world falls apart. But that hasn’t happened on Bling Empire yet. I wait in hope, though.

Take poor, vain, shallow, dumb Kevin. All of the main cast are millionaires except our ‘host’ Kevin Kreider, the walking ab who’s keepin’ it real by working as a model in LA. Through him we’re invited into the weird world of uber-rich Asians living in the City of Angels. Not one of these millionaires is happy, though. The first hint is all the plastic surgery. Yet even the most cosmetically successful are still cranky, dissatisfied bitches.

Is this because money can’t buy happiness?

Or because money actually makes you unhappy?

Anna Shay, self-described Queen of Los Angeles, should be ecstatic. With an estimated fortune in the hundreds of millions, she’s been married four times, seems perpetually stunned, and has a head like an old wax candle. But she’s also the only real human being in the entire show. Because she always had wealth, she’s not chasing more. Maybe that’s a clue?

Christine Chiu may be a fresher candle, but as the wife and real-life Frankenstein-doll of Hollywood plastic surgeon Dr Gabriel Chiu she has a resting bitchface even when she’s not resting. She is over-the-top wealth-centric. Everything, even her uterus, is about money. An extravagant first-birthday party for her son turns into a photoshoot promoting Christine. She is by far the most miserable of them all, judging by all the stylish weeping in couture: the least happy, the least human. Another clue?

The one who laughs the most, Kane Lim, is a Singaporean millionaire who wants you to believe he made his own fortune aged 17. To buy more shoes, apparently. But his father also may/may not be a billionaire who may/may not have given him a little help. Kane is so cloaked in fake laughter, Botox and bling that it’s hard to determine who he really is. I’m waiting for him to declare his gender, to be honest. I suspect he changes it with his footwear. Kane seems secretly yet deeply unhappy.

The rest are a pox on society.

Please let’s not forget how most Asians live.

I’m not at the end of Season 1, and they’ve already declared there will be a second series. What could they possibly do for whole second series??

I suspect, in line with the most recent study, that the Asian who eventually divorces happiness from wealth might emerge a winner. There is no nexus between happiness and stuff. Nobody has eternity to work this out or, as Anna Shay poignantly says to a younger cast member:

There is no dress rehearsal.

This is it.

Leave a Reply