Within the history of music there are many examples of tragic figures who have achieved incredible success but don’t seem to be any happier for it. Kurt Cobain is one of the greatest examples of this. Cobain had a difficult childhood with his parents divorcing and him bouncing from home to home sometimes spending the night in a hospital waiting room when he had nowhere else to stay.
Cobain pursued music and aimed to play, write, and perform as well as he could and he ended up achieving a lot of success in music but would go on to say in an interview, here, that his success only made him happy for short periods of time and never gave him a prolonged feeling of satisfaction in his life.
Figures like Cobain always seem to have the same comments hurled their way; “How can they be so miserable when they have everything?” or “How could you be upset with that bank balance?” etc. So I thought I would dedicate today’s post to trying to explain why it is that such wealthy musicians still manage to be so sad. The concept I will be discussing is the Easterlin Paradox.
The Easterlin Paradox was first discussed by American economist Richard Easterlin in 1974, it states that after a certain amount (around $30,000) your annual income doesn’t have a direct effect on your level of happiness or satisfaction. This phenomenon can be seen in the graph below and is taken from this paper.
As can be seen in the graph above, to a certain extent one’s income does play a part in their levels of satisfaction, but as income continues to increase, levels of satisfaction don’t. This is because happiness is determined by in large by one’s context. For example, when you get your first ever job and receive your first ever pay packet you may feel a massive sense of satisfaction, but ten payments later the level of satisfaction will have diminished because you have become accustomed to earning wages and it is no longer a novelty.
The same thing happens with successful musicians, particularly ones who struggle with the condition of depression like Kurt Cobain. They have a predisposition to being depressed, then they achieve success and experience a short burst of happiness but then return to their depressed state. So when people make comments like “How could you be upset if you had that much money?” it’s not really fair because your level of satisfaction is relative to your circumstances and after a certain point, your level of income doesn’t increase your level of happiness.
By Daragh O’Leary