Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Friday, July 09, 2010

People just seem happier in the poorer parts of Asia. Why?

Today at the trade show in Jakarta, I was chatting with a Dutch supplier who's been doing business in Asia twice as long as I have -- 11 years. I commented how it seems people in the poorer regions of Asia seem generally happier than people in the US or parts of Europe. I asked him if he had any opinions on the matter.

He's had the same observations and he thinks it has something to do with the 'law of diminishing returns'. He explained with an example.

The pleasure of going from owning no TV to owning a TV for the first time is huge. The pleasure of going from owning no AC to owning AC is equally as huge. The pleasure of going from owning no car to owning a car, I think, is hard to understand for people who live in countries where having a car is taken for granted.

These are serious life improvements and when these sort of big shifts happen to millions of people on a grand scale, a static electric kinda feeling runs through the population that things are really changing for the better for a great many people. It doesn't matter that the TV or AC are in wooden shacks with dirt floors and corrugated metal roofs. This is a phenomenon that hasn't been in Europe or the US for quite some time.

And in many of these countries like Vietnam or China you have more than 10% growth in the economy so this is happening on an unimaginable scale for thousands of major life quality upgrades.

But take a rich country like the US. Everyone's got a TV and AC and umpteen other things of equal comfort. Our lives are saturated. What more pleasure can we obtain on par with going from zero TV to having a TV? Upgrading that TV to a bigger one? or with HD? Getting two or three or four TVs? Sure, that brings a level of additional pleasure, but the pleasure is far more diminished than the feeling you got when you got your first one; you can never get that original thrill -- kind of like the effect of a drug -- and the pleasurable feelings are more and more diminished the more stuff you continue to obtain. Hence, 'the law of diminishing returns', and more happiness in regions where people are poor and the economy is roaring.

Maybe this is one reason why polls in rich countries show a larger proportion of the population disapprove of the direction of their country. In China, for example, I think over 80% approve of the direction of their country, as opposed to less than 30% is the US.
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