Does money make you mean? In a talk at TEDxMarin, social psychologist Paul Piff shares his research into how people behave when they feel wealthy. (Hint: badly.)
To learn more, watch the whole talk here»
I have a theory about this, which is completely unsupported by data and might be totally wrong.
I think people like to believe that their choices matter. We don’t like to consider the role that luck and circumstance plays in human life, because it makes us feel powerless and ultimately like maybe we should not even bother to get out of bed in the morning. So we find ways to imagine that we can make our own destinies and that we are in control of our own lives.
To an extent, of course, we are. Our choices do matter. But so do chance and privilege.
But I think most people want a narrative of their lives that is about something other than dumb luck. So if you become powerful or wealthy, you start to think, "This happened because I worked hard," because you did work hard. You think, "This happened because I didn’t give up," because you didn’t give up.
But THEN there is this nagging feeling that haunts you, because you know that other people also work hard and that other people also don’t give up, and that they have not experienced the same success you have.
In short, deep down you know that the game of Monopoly, through chance or through systemic injustice, has been rigged in your favor. And that makes you feel like everything is random and meaningless and you are unworthy of your good fortune, and I think many people respond to that feeling defensively: They want you to know that they made a really amazing decision to buy Park Avenue, a bold and dangerous decision. And yes, they started the game with more money, but lots of people start the game with more money and DON’T make the bold and brilliant decision to buy Park Avenue.
And in the end, this desire to build a narrative of your success that gives you agency within your own life leads to a less compassionate life. It also often I think leads to echo chambers: Because any challenge to your “I earned it” worldview is a direct attack on your feeling that you are in control of your life, you have to surround yourself with people whose own life experiences do not contradict that worldview. This is the only reason I can think of that wealthy people are literally more likely to take candy from children.
The challenge—and this is a challenge for all of us—is to internalize the roles luck and systemic injustice play in our lives while still continuing to try to be good and useful creatures.
Glad to see that John is spending his vacation ruminating on human nature and inequality. All is right with the world.