If You Think Kids Who Live on Dirt Floors Are Happy and "Have Everything They Need," You SERIOUSLY Need to Check Your Privilege.
I spent several weeks traveling in Costa Rica an Panama this year -- and, obviously, I met a lot of expats. Many of whom were total new-age hippies.
As individuals, they are wonderful people. But spend enough time (say, over five minutes) with a group of them, and one will inevitably launch into a "life is so much better without money" monologue.
They will give examples of the poor children who don't even have shoes or homes and live on dirt floors, yet they are happy because they "have everything they need."
The idea is lovely. Factually, though, it is incorrect.
As I recently wrote in"The Great Affluence Fallacy" is a Great, Big Lie,
"Rich countries are happier than poor countries. Rich people are happier than poor people. And money can buy happiness -- if you know how to spend it."
If you like economics, and/or overly complicated graphs, I highly recommend reading the whole post.
If you're more a fan of applied social interventions and real-world examples, let's run with the example so many new-age hippie/expat types love so much: dirt floors.
Are people with dirt floors really happier? Do they really have everything they need?
Dirt floors suck.
Kids who live in homes with dirt floors are exposed to fecal matter, worms, protozoa and other parasites. This leads to diarrhea (which kills 75,000 children worldwide every year), anemia, malnutrition, dehydration, cognitive disorders and developmental disabilities.
Which is why, in 2000, Enrique Martínez y Martínez, the governor of the Mexican state of Coahuila, launched a program to replace dirt floors with cement ones. The program, called Piso Firme (Solid Floor), provided more than 34,000 homes with 50 square meters of flooring, at a cost of about $150 per family. (For reference, that was about 1.5 months salary for many residents.)
Families were given advance warning so they could prepare their homes. Then the trucks came and poured the cement, and families smoothed it down.
Doesn't this look way nicer and cleaner than a dirt floor?
But it didn't just look nice.
A year later, researchers returned to Coahuila, as well as neighboring Gómez Palacio, which is just across the state line in Durango. They brought scales and medical testing equipment to weigh and measure the children, as well as check for anemia and collect stool samples.
The researchers also gave cognitive tasks, asking mothers questions about their babies' ability to recognize words, and asking older kids questions about pictures.
And guess what? According to economist Eduardo Porter, author of The Price of Everything: Finding Method in the Madness of What Things Cost:
Paving floors led to a 78% drop in parasitic infections.
Diarrhea went down 50%.
Anemia was down 80%.
Kids with cement floors did 30-100% better on cognitive tests than kids who lived in dirt.
And! The moms were happier. Depression fell by half, and stress levels decreased drastically.
Moms with new cement floors were 70% more satisfied with lives.
For $150 per family, Coahuila bought a lot of happiness, health and life satisfaction.
Which is why Piso Firme was adopted by the rest of Mexico soon after.
This is just one of about a billion ways that money can buy happiness. It's also a clear example of hippie types completely missing the mark when it comes to their perception of other peoples' material needs -- probably because of their own privilege. It's easy to glorify a "minimalist" lifestyle when you can go back to your real life whenever you want and get medevaced if something ever goes wrong.
Kids with dirt floors are not happier than kids with hard floors. All they are... is more likely to be sick and have depressed parents.
Want to know more? Check out Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton's amazing book, Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending. It will blow your mind -- and probably improve your life.
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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