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What brings more happiness: money or power?

Stashed in: Character, Best PandaWhale Posts, Wealth!, Money!, @bakadesuyo, Awesome, Pwnies!, Power!, @chrisyeh, Heart

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This post approved by Tony Montana and "his little friend."

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The answer surprised me.

I thought that people THINK power will make them happy, but when they have power, it does not make them happy.

This surprised me too, because I thought that money could buy experiences that make you happy. But on further reflection, I realized that even the most awesomest experiences are not truly enjoyable unless you can share them with friends and family... and if you have significantly more wealth than your loved ones, it's very awkward. Also, a lot of the experiences that make you the happiest don't cost very much money anyway!

I think the answer lies less in the upside of power and more on the downside of being powerless. Power feels good, not feeling powerless is GREAT. Having someone telling you what to do, not being able to complain, being worried about the future because you don't have control... These REALLY suck and are profoundly stressful. (Similarly, being rich is nice, not starving is AWESOME.)

Also, money is an abstraction and very relative. Power, in the immediate, is more objective. If an objective level of money was necessary for happiness than (by and large) WHOLE CONTINENTS of this planet would be miserable. Obviously, that is not the case. More often than not we (in the first world) desire money simply to have power in the eyes of others. Life without regard for status can be exceedingly cheap.

Quantity beats quality when it comes to happiness.:

That link says that genetics are 50% of happiness.

And 40% of happiness are experiencing lots of small, happy moments.

Life itself is only 10%?! Seems like a lot more than that.

More accurately:

-50% is genetics.

-40% is the daily choices you make and things you do.

-10% is circumstances further outside your control like where you live, how much money you make, etc.

We all know people who are happy no matter what. They hit the genetic lottery. Then there are people who go out and make their happiness. And finally we see that the things we can't control really aren't as big a deal as we think. Again, if happiness required living in a first world democracy making $100K+ a year, then the vast majority of the world would be miserable, and we know that is not the case.

Also, if happiness required having power, then the vast majority of people in the world would be miserable, and we know that is not the case.

Never said power was necessary for happiness, but it does increase it. :)

Which is why those who have money often use it to buy power.

I think most use it to buy status, not really power. Most people want the trappings of power (Mercedes, Rolex, etc) which are emblematic of status but they don't actually seek power because that requires effort to maintain (people can lose respect for you, your authority can be challenged, etc.)

I don't think most people want to throw 10000 kicks -- they just want to own a black belt.

I'm thinking of people who make large political contributions (or run for office!) ...

Or people who use their wealth to acquire sports franchises or make huge endowments to a university to become trustees.

Or people who use their funds to become Limited Partners in a venture capital or private equity firm.

Even movie producers turn money into control.

Any of those employments of capital beget power.

Agreed, but you're talking about VERY VERY BIG money. You're talking about people with millions (or tens or hundreds of millions) in disposable income -- less than 1% of the US population. You and I were talking about different things when we said "people with money." :)

Panda is a VERY VERY BIG thinker ;) Actually Adam, you are kind of a perfect example of someone who has a lot of power (via a giant network who you are constantly brokering favors for) and not much money -- but are happy! You use your power to help people NOW... but everyone knows that someday you're going to ask every single person in your network for a small, seemingly insignificant favor... which will collectively turn you into a criminal mastermind, or else bring about the singularity.

In sufficient quantities, money and power are fungible. Just ask Michael Bloomberg.

But in lower quantities, they are not. If you are the sheriff of a small town, you have a great deal of power, but even if exploit your power for money, you're not likely to become a millionaire.

If you earn $100K a year in Budapest, you're a wealthy man who can exert some real influence. If you earn $100K a year in Palo Alto, you're busy trying to conceal your poverty from your neighbors.

The sad fact is that humans are comparison engines. Absolute wealth is less important than relative wealth. Power, because it is also relative to your surroundings, is a more reliable source of happiness.

Of course, all of these extrinsic motivations are less productive than intrinsic ones like caring relationships, personal growth, and community involvement.

What he said.

Eric, at some point we need to get together so we can continue our mutual admiration society in person. Email me (it's pretty straightforward: chris at chrisyeh dot com) and let's meet up.

Absolutely, Chris. :)

I'm still thinking about Paul Krugman's article stating that those with extreme wealth and power -- Wall Street bankers -- not only want their policies put into place, but also want to be free from criticism:

I need to do a round up of all my posts on power. I have a "power" tag in Evernote calling out to me. Today was the family round up. Power will be soon. Putting those together is quite draining, so much like IRON FIST, I am only able to summon that ability once a day. :P


There's an old saying that character is what you do when you think nobody's looking.

The corollary with power is that getting it will reveal your true character to the world. The truly powerful stop caring what others thing. At that point, their actions are an accurate reflection of their character.

I recently posted new research on this very subject! :)

Does power reveal people's true colors?

Not necessarily. People with power do show their true colors when no other factors are affecting them. Overall it's more accurate to say that power makes people behave in line with whatever influences easily come to their mind -- whether that's their true desires, their habits or the context they're in. My guess is that the distinction here is that people without power have to consider whether their feelings are appropriate so as to not rock the boat. Powerful people don't need to filter, they just react to whatever is top of mind.

I would argue that the constructs that come easily to mind are your true self. But it is a good nuance.

This reminds me of Prof Sapolsky's work at Stanford:

or for the digested version and an update:

Sapolsky is brilliant. Last summer I watched the entire semester of his Stanford Human Behavioral Biology class on iTunes University.

I did a brief post about his work on power and stress a while back. I've also posted about his work on sexuality, depression, and type A ("The historically important connection between heart disease and chair upholstery").

Also worth checking out is Jonah Lehrer's piece for Wired about Sapolsky's stress research along with Sapolsky's lecture on "The Uniqueness of Humans", which is wonderful.

"I had no idea it would turn out this way."  Famous last words, unless you've read Lord of the Flies. 

Rohit complains that we're playing telephone:

It took 7 links to get from your g+ share to the actual study, which says nothing of the sort. There's nothing about power in there at all, which is not surprising given the data set, a poll:

His conclusion?

Well of course money and power are correlated (though I wouldn't say causation is as clear) but there's no reason to assume that people spend effort only on craving power; perhaps the civilizing force of money is that degrees of success are much more attainable then the limited game of musical chairs that power struggles assume…


He's confused.

The post we're discussing is here:

The study it refers to (the abstract is included in the body of the post) is here:

He's mistaking my link to this post as the source:

I included that link to explain the money-doesn't-bring-happiness angle. The source of our discussion is the study abstract below it.

Thanks Eric, I'll fill him in. :)

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