Doing Good, Doing Well   (December 31, 2012)

If we define "doing well" as having excess income and wealth to spend on gratification, we have defined the wellspring of discontent.

There is an old and bitter maxim that describes the missionaries who sailed to Hawaii in the early-1800s: "They came to do good and stayed to do well." Is it easier to "get rich" than to do good? Does "doing well" create fulfillment or just an ephemeral gratification? Is it possible to "do good" and "do well" at the same time, or is the "to get rich is glorious," wealth-is-good mindset a self-serving illusion?

These questions help me crystallize one purpose of my work on the blog and in my books, which is to re-integrate meaning, work, happiness and our marketing-consumerist culture and economy.

In general, we assume (with much nudging) that wealth and happiness are tightly correlated, i.e. getting rich will deliver greater happiness just as a matter of causality. We are also pounded to believe that doing well will magically create a greater good--something every hedge fund manager pulling down $600 million annually wants to believe.

Yet studies find the correlation of wealth to happiness to be far weaker than generally assumed. This reflects the compartmentalization of marketing, economics and psychology: psychologists study human happiness in families and individuals, and occasionally in workplaces, but rarely in an entire economy/society.

I have argued in Resistance, Revolution, Liberation that our marketing/consumer-based economy excels in distributing social defeat; indeed, social defeat (the surrender of autonomy, acceptance of low social status, a permanent state of anxiety and insecurity, dependence on the Central State) and increasing inequality are causal consequences of the Status Quo.

This derangement is so backgrounded and "natural" that we fail to see it, much less expose it to critical inquiry.

In his mid-1960s analysis of Marxism and Existentialism, the Critique of Dialectical Reason, Jean-Paul Sartre stated that the root drive of humanity was besoin (need): we respond to need, and economics and politics arise from those responses.

Recent scientific research into human happiness has located a distinction between "want" and "need" that corresponds to the difference between gratification and fulfillment. The drug addict seeks the gratification of a desperate need, yet the "hit" does not generate happiness in the sense of joy or fulfillment.

The entire purpose of consumerist marketing is to transform a "want" into a "need," and thus to turn potential fulfillment into mere gratification. Meaning and joy are reduced to urges that demand gratification.

If we define "doing well" as having excess income and wealth to spend on gratification, we have defined the wellspring of discontent. If we define "doing good" as experiencing fulfillment and happiness, then it seems "doing well" (accumulating "stuff" and wealth) is ontologically distant from doing good.

If we integrate our understanding of human happiness with our critique of the marketing/State/consumerist Status Quo, we get a clearer understanding why "growth" and "wealth" yield so little meaning and fulfillment and such an abundance of alienation and disappointment.

"The grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love and something to hope for." Joseph Addison (via Susan J.)

This essay was drawn from Musings Report 33. The Musings are sent weekly to subscribers and major financial contributors (those who contribute $50 or more annually).

Gordon T. Long has assembled an excellent review of 2012 excerpted from the 20 video programs we taped in 2012 (also available as podcasts): the Recap is 23 minutes and includes 33 slides:

My new book Why Things Are Falling Apart and What We Can Do About It is now available in print and Kindle editions--10% to 20% discounts.

Things are falling apart--that is obvious. But why are they falling apart? The reasons are complex and global. Our economy and society have structural problems that cannot be solved by adding debt to debt. We are becoming poorer, not just from financial over-reach, but from fundamental forces that are not easy to identify or understand. We will cover the five core reasons why things are falling apart:

go to print edition 1. Debt and financialization
2. Crony capitalism and the elimination of accountability
3. Diminishing returns
4. Centralization
5. Technological, financial and demographic changes in our economy

Complex systems weakened by diminishing returns collapse under their own weight and are replaced by systems that are simpler, faster and affordable. If we cling to the old ways, our system will disintegrate. If we want sustainable prosperity rather than collapse, we must embrace a new model that is Decentralized, Adaptive, Transparent and Accountable (DATA).

We are not powerless. Not accepting responsibility and being powerless are two sides of the same coin: once we accept responsibility, we become powerful.

10% discount on the Kindle edition: $8.95 (retail $9.95)       print edition: $24 on

To receive a 20% discount on the print edition: $19.20 (retail $24), follow the link, open a Createspace account and enter discount code SJRGPLAB. (This is the only way I can offer a discount.)

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