Christian Long

Benjamin Wallace: The Price of Happiness

In TED Talks on April 8, 2010 at 11:20 pm

Reflection by HERSH T.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Benjamin Wallace: The Price of Happiness

One of the most transcendent questions for humans has been, “How can we be happy?” As the saying goes, “money can’t buy happiness.” However, the counter saying is of course, “I would rather cry in a Porsche than in a truck.” In this video, Mr. Wallace samples the highest end items in several fields and conveys his feelings about them, ranging from steak and wine to extremely technologically advanced toilets.

Material goods can only give so much happiness.

Of course, happiness can also be categorized into true happiness versus the happiness that society has made prevalent, which is more often than not false. When one buys something new or gets a remarkable new gift, happiness is the emotion that is felt right? However, how soon does that feeling disappear. How soon is it before the person wants something new, or something different? The feeling that one receives at these moments is not happiness, it is simply material satisfaction. And this feeling builds up in us and over time leads to a need for more of it and so a cycle that is truly bad for us is born. Mr. Wallace goes on and explains each item and a pattern seems to emerge. The majority of items were items that involved tasting i.e. eating and drinking. We can assume that a majority of human pleasures are achieved through the five senses and taste is a sense that, while often overlooked, is instrumental in allowing us the appreciate life.

Mr. Wallace goes on and he begins to note several items that although extremely expensive are simply impractical. This goes back to the idea that the human mind has competition hardwired into it. So although the item itself is unusable or impractical, the price of it allows the person to turn a blind eye. And on the flip side, we find that several extremely expensive items are in fact endorsed by Mr. Wallace such as the bed, and toilet mentioned above. The reason that they are endorsed is simply that they are pragmatic and useful in everyday life. This type of recurrent satisfaction would slowly allow simple material things to lose their appeal and allow one to realize that happiness truly is more of an abstract thing.

Something that really caught my eye and resonated with me was a comment made about a $60 bar of soap the size of the cap of a bottle of water. Mr. Wallace said that he had used the soap, which possessed micro-beads and antibacterial properties, and, the interesting thing to note was that he said that nobody had commented on it! This is the crux of the human search for happiness and satisfaction which was touched upon by Mr. Wallace in a rather intriguing way. He noted also that the jeans he was wearing, $180 jeans, were not commented on either.

Human happiness and satisfaction relies more on other people than on the mindset of the person himself.

If someone say commented on your hair or eyes, how would that make you feel? You would swell with a sense of happiness and perchance egotistic behaviors would emerge. That is beside the point however, the idea is that happiness is dependent upon what other people think of you. In ancient times when people still were fighting for survival these social ideas of gossip and mental image would not have mattered. However, now that humans can relax and seek entertainment and enjoyment they are emerging as the next beast that humans must worry about. Even in regards to money matters, the idea that the money can you get prestige matters more to you that the idea that it can get you a food that will soon be gone.

Mr. Wallace makes a remark later on that is in fact a rather unexpected comment. He notes that when he went to taste over 60 of the best wines in the world, he could not tell the difference in the end. This overload of the senses reduces them to nothing more that simple conduits of information rather than the real senses that can truly appreciate life. This is prevalent in our society today because of how stressed and overworked we are, the senses that we possess are often clouded and intoxicated and so we need more and more of something to achieve the same amount of pleasure that a smaller portion would have satisfied.

The closing study that Mr. Wallace remarks on is probably the most interesting thing I have heard in the past year. Scientists did a study in which they took several people for a wine tasting gathering and the scientists took the same bottle of wine, labeled it with different price tags and gave it to the people. Now the expected response happened, in which the people with the more expensive wine noted that they enjoyed it more than the “cheaper” wine. However, the intriguing thing was that the scientists took an M.R.I scan of the participants brains as they drank the wine and saw the surprising result that the people not only said they enjoyed the more expensive wine more but that their minds actually registered more pleasure from the more expensive wine.

The human nature has been twisted so much by present day society that people actually measure their happiness on the monetary value of their everyday and often, not so everyday, events.

In accordance with Mr. Wallace, I believe that to a certain extent, in today’s day and age, happiness truly can be bought.

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  1. It is quite intersetng because I did a reflection on this video as well and found myself saying some of the very things that you have mentioned. I used the quite that “money can’t buy happiness” and also agreed that happiness, on some level, can be bought.

    “Human happiness and satisfaction relies more on other people than on the mindset of the person himself.” I really love this line because it makes plausible sense. To you and me, money cannot always buy happiness, but to others material goods are, in fact, happiness. This really opens the debate up because many people are going to have many different opinions because of what they believe.

    I really liked your inflection, and i still find myself smiling because we wrote pretty similar ideas.

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