Part 6: Is Pronoia Just for Rich, Comfortable People?

(excerpted from the revised and expanded edition of
Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia)

The Maasai people of Kenya don't have running water, toilets, or electricity, and their per capita income is $300 a year. They use cattle dung as plaster in building their homes because the scent helps repel lions, which dislike it, from venturing too close.

And yet they are as happy with their lives as Forbes' magazine's "400 richest Americans" are with theirs -- even though the latter may live in 10,000-square-foot palaces with stained glass windows, French patio doors, limestone kitchen counter tops, spas, wine cellars, and Olympic-sized swimming pools.

This assertion comes from "Beyond Money: Toward an Economy of Well-Being," a report done by psychologists Ed Diener and Martin E. P. Seligman. On a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 is "extremely dissatisfied," 4 is "neutral," and 7 means "extremely satisfied," the Maasai, the Inuit of northern Greenland, and the wealthiest Americans all scored 5.8.

Paupers scratching out a livelihood in the slums of Calcutta registered a score of 4.6, while international college students and the Amish of Illinois weighed in at 4.9. Citing 150 other studies in their work, Diener and Seligman conclude that economic factors are not necessarily correlated with happiness levels, especially in the developed world.


Meanwhile, according to the World Values Survey, published in *New Scientist* magazine, Nigerians are the happiest people on the planet, although 60 percent of them live below the poverty line. The next four populations at the top of the list are Mexicans, Venezuelans, Salvadorans, and Puerto Ricans. On the scale of the planet's wealthiest places, they rank 63rd, 64th, 101st, and 163rd, respectively.

To be clear, Ed Diener notes in another report that on average, rich people are happier than poor people. He also says that cultural context is an important consideration in analyzing the relationship between financial well-being and happiness.

A homeless man in California may have more money than a Maasai cattle-herder but be less sanguine about his fate. That's because basic necessities cost more for him and he is surrounded by people who are far better off than he is.

But Diener also declares that happiness is harder to attain for those who believe money is the most important factor in feeling good.

Echoing him, the World Values Survey goes so far as to say that "the desire for material goods is actually a 'happiness suppressant,'" mirroring the Buddhist assertion that the craving for earthly riches can be the source of intense suffering.


In calling attention to some of the surprisingly good news about the developing world, I of course don't mean to imply that paradise is at hand.

My recognition of the underreported progress and miracles is not equivalent to an endorsement of evil-doers.

And I trust that after having read the six-part series that's completed here this week you won't go numb to the suffering of others and stop agitating on their behalf.

Just the opposite: I hope that you will be energized by the signs of creeping benevolence and waxing intelligence.

As you absorb the evidence that an aggressive strain of compassion is loose in the world, maybe you will conclude that activism actually works, and you'll be motivated to give yourself with confidence to the specific role you can play in manifesting the ultimate goal: to create a heaven on earth in which everyone alive is a healthy, free, self-actualized, spiritually enlightened millionaire dedicated to living sustainably.


Read Part One of the series.

Read Part Two of the series.

Read Part Three of the series.

Read Part Four of the series.

Read Part Five of the series.