The Prosperity Paradox, Happiness and the Pendulum

The Prosperity Paradox has been obvious to me since I moved from the third world to the first world and settled in Canada in 2004.Today I am linking this paradox with two other ideas.

Firstly, for over 5 years, I have thought about the pendulum theory so well described in the book Pendulum by Roy Williams and Michael Drew (Amazon affiliate link). I wrote about it in this post in 2012 and this in 2017.

prosperity paradox


Recent events support the arguments in the book that we are nearing the extremity of the swing to the “We” thinking that has gained momentum since the midpoint in 2003. The pendulum traces a 40-year cycle between the zeniths of the “Me” and “We” cycles.

Secondly, I have noticed an increasing number of conversations in the media about happiness – or the quest for that elusive state. Other current topics include:

An overwhelming flood of information.

Excessive social media consumption.

Addiction to electronic devices with screens.

Artificial Intelligence, robotics, automation and the future of work.

Social Media used indiscriminately as a reputation and career-ending weapon.

They are all connected and major contributors to the Prosperity Paradox and widespread discontent in Western Societies.

The Prosperity Paradox

As a late teenager and young adult, I lived in Rhodesia in the 1960 and 70s. Sanctions meant that there was always a shortage of basic commodities and very few luxuries. The terrorist war required that men spent half their lives in the military for 4 to 6 weeks at a time. Life was not easy but we survived, had intense national pride, very low levels of non-politically motivated crime. There were few mental health, or child abuse issues. Suicides and drug addiction were rarely heard of. Despite widespread gun ownership and the need to carry guns much of the time, there were no school or other mass-shootings, few domestic murders or accidental shootings.

It goes without saying that in that era there were no Facebook, email or Internet to immerse us in other people’s arguments or expose us to continual digital distractions.

Although we complained about hardships, we were generally content. We had a cause, fighting for our survival. We also had to cram a lot of working, living and parenting into half our time. We were in the bush for the other half.

In chapter 13 of my book, 5 Steps To Thriving on Adversity, I wrote about the most contented and happiest man I had met. An elderly African farmer, poor by our Western standards but living an immensely rich, healthy and successful life by his.

When I asked him why he didn’t grow more crops or raise more cattle to increase his income, his response was “what for”. I told him how he could have a telephone, electricity, running water in his house, buy a tractor or a car with the extra money. He kept asking “what for”. Each time I suggested something I considered essential, he responded with “I have enough”.

prosperity paradox

African Sunset

He told me why buying any of those things would not make him any happier, they would just create more problems for him and he was happy with his life the way it was. With what he had now, he could sit in the sun, drink beer and watch his large family work in the fields. He was content.

This article by Ari Zoldan in Inc with the subtitle “Our society breeds a culture of convincing people that they don’t have enough. So how can we ever feel truly happy?” Expands on what I learned from that old African farmer 40 years ago, it’s worth reading.

There is nothing wrong with being wealthy, it makes life easier and allows us to help others, but it doesn’t automatically make us happy.

The Pendulum

Taking all the trending topics I listed above and observing what is happening in our society, I am convinced that the pendulum will soon start swinging back towards an era of common sense, respect for individual rights and freedom to express dissenting opinions.

I just hope it starts its return swing before unfettered political correctness leads to a 21st-century version of the Salem witch trials.

Perhaps that will lead to a greater realisation that no amount of “things” can buy lasting happiness. Gratitude, appreciation and self-reliance can and do.

How are you doing with your happiness and contentment? Leave a comment.


Pendulum photo by Ben Ostrowsky on Unsplash

African Sunset is my own

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