On consideration it will appear that in this matter the poor faithfully express their real feelings, while the rich as a class must be accused of affectation, when they express a longing for the simple life and freedom from care attributed to the poor. When we have any hesitation in implicitly believing the account men give of their sentiments, the best way to get at the truth is to observe their conduct. Applying this test to the question before us, we find that the poor are continually struggling hard to become rich, while there are not many rich men who willingly impoverish themselves, though they might very easily divest themselves of their riches at any moment. In the few cases in which rich men have voluntarily given up their wealth, their conduct has been dictated, not by desire of worldly happiness, but by far higher motives.
Nevertheless, it must be admitted that there is a certain amount of truth in the praises of poverty expressed by the rich. These praises are to be regarded as an exaggerated denial of the popular idea that wealth is sure to increase happiness. Other circumstances being equal, the rich man is likely to be happier than the poor man; but there are other sources of happiness so much more important than wealth, that in many cases their absence makes the millionaire miserable in the midst of all his expensive luxury. There is much that wealth cannot do. It cannot buy respect, friendship, or love, although it can command flattery, and may make those who are secretly envious pretend to be full of goodwill. It is often powerless to defend its possessor against ill-health, disease and the approach of death.
Nay, in some cases, it may actually be prejudicial to health. Many men who in poverty lived a simple, healthy life, plunge into excesses when they become rich, and shorten their lives by indulgence in highly-seasoned dishes and costly wines. It is also true that many men find the management of great wealth a heavy burden on their mind.
They are depressed by the fear of losing their possessions, and at the same time are dissatisfied as long as there is any one else in the world richer than themselves. The luxuries, comforts and conveniences that money can buy soon become so familiar that they cease to give pleasure, although losing them would be painful. The poor man derives as much pleasure from his pot of beer as a bottle of champagne affords to the rich man. The influence of custom in taking away the zest from sources of pleasure that have become familiar does much to equalize the balance of happiness between rich and poor. If the rich man is, as a rule, happier than the poor man, it is not, as is commonly supposed, because he can buy more luxuries for himself, but because his wealth-increases his power of making others happy.