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Envy, no fun at all Print E-mail
By Arthur Brooks   
Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Irish singer Bono once described a difference between America and his native land. “In the United States,” he explained, “you look at the guy that lives in the mansion on the hill, and you think, you know, one day, if I work really hard, I could live in that mansion. In Ireland, people look up at the guy in the mansion on the hill and go, one day, I’m going to get that bastard.”

Alexis de Tocqueville phrased it a little differently, but his classic 19th-century text contains the same observation. Visiting from France, he marveled at Americans’ ability to keep envy at bay, and to see others’ successes as portents of good times for all.

For decades, survey data has supported the Bono-Tocqueville Hypothesis. The 2006 World Values Survey, for example, found that Americans are only a third as likely as British or French people to feel strongly that “hard work doesn’t generally bring success; it’s more a matter of luck and connections.” This faith that success flows from effort has built America’s reputation as a remarkably unenvious society.

Does it matter? It does indeed, when it comes to our pursuit of happiness. As the essayist Joseph Epstein puts it, “Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all.”

 
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