Does Inequality Affect Your Happiness

Does Inequality Affect Your Happiness

You may not know this about me, but after I got my Ph.D. in Neuroscience, I spent about 10 years in the field of public health (specifically epidemiology) looking for underlying factors that contribute to mental and cognitive health problems across populations.   One of the things that resonated with me about the field of public health, was that we looked at risk factors at all levels ranging from the individual, to the relationship level, community level and societal level.   While most of my writings have been on things that we can do in our relationships and personally to improve our mental health, we cannot forget the enormous role that our communities and society play in our happiness.

Right now a major contributor to our mental health is the increasing inequality that we are experiencing.  Income inequality is at an all time high, and the richest 85 people have as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion. And in a comparison across 31 countries, US has the second highest level of inequality, only second to Chile.

So how does income inequality affect our mental health?

Income inequality has been linked to increases in mental disorders both across states and countries.   Amongst the wealthy, there is an associated rise in Narcissistic Sociopathic Personality Disorder, and amongst the poor, more depression and anxiety.   Countries with higher income inequality have lower levels of trust.   There is more competition for fewer resources, and so when forced to be competitive, we look for differences between us, we have more shame, become less trusting and less social.   It decreases our interest in participation in our government, our interest in helping each other, and increases discrimination against vulnerable minority groups.

My concern is that that is exactly what happened before the rise of Nazi Germany, and it is what is happening how in the US.

Does money make you mean?

Dr. Paul Piff gives a fascinating TED talk, called “Does Money Make you Mean?”. He ran an experiment where he took college kids and had them play Monopoly. They had 2 kids play, then rigged the game so that one student had clear privileges over the other. The lucky student received twice as much money, got twice as much money for passing “Go” and was able to use 2 dice, which allowed him to travel twice as far as the other player who was allowed to use just 1.   Researchers watched from a hidden room as the lucky student’s body language become more and more confident, and who seemed to take more and more delight in winning despite knowing that the game was rigged. Then after the game was over, when the lucky student was asked how he won, he attributed it to his own genius in playing the game.   He seemed to have forgotten that the game was rigged in his favor!

He also has lots of research using various experiments and surveys showing how more money can make people less ethical, more selfish, more insular, and less compassionate than other people.  Rich people also have higher feelings of entitlement, and were for example more likely to take candy from a bowl that was designated for children. People driving more expensive cars were less likely to stop for pedestrians.   And people higher on the socioeconomic ladder were more likely to agree with the statement, “In order to be a successful person in this society, it is important to make use of every opportunity”.

His TED talk is worth watching:


Does Inequality make us unhappy?

For those of us who are struggling more to make ends meet, I think the answer is fairly obvious. Not only is there more shame, depression and anxiety when you have to work harder and harder to make ends meet, but it can be frustrating and infuriating to see that others who don’t have to work as hard enjoying vacations, homes and more, when you can’t afford your rent or car payment.  I think the body language of this monkey in Frans de Waal’s experiment tells it all.   You’ll just have to watch:

So what can we do?

So if inequality increases our anxiety and depression, makes us more withdrawn and less trusting, and it makes rich people more narcissistic, what should we do?

We need first recognize that our growing financial struggles are much more about a system that is working against us.   Robert Reich’s movie, Inequality for All does a wonderful job of explaining the historical context and the variables of how we arrived at this point.  Personally, I found the movie, fun, educational and inspiring.  In this movie, and if you read his books and follow his Facebook posts, he educates us about how to reverse the tide of growing inequality.  It will not be easy, but we must fight to have an ethical government and courts that are working on behalf of the people again.   We believe that it is possible, but only when we as a society are ready to fight for what we believe in.

If you would like to join me in fighting for a country that that gives every one the chance to make it; if you’d like to help me restore our democracy; If you’d like to help me restore our trust in one another, our government, our courts and our police; if you’d like to see more compassion for the poor, the disabled, our children, the elderly, minorities, animals and our earth, then I hope you will  join me and help us get big money out of politics.  Why? Because as long as money is corrupting the ethics of our leaders, the more our leaders will serve the interests of their payers, regardless of the interests of the people.

In addition to watching Inequality for All, and Pay to Play, here are 8 Things you can Do to Help Get Money Out of Politics.

Did you like this article?  Please share it with your friends.

Are you doing something to fight inequality?  Please share your ideas below!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Follow by Email