• Can Material Prosperity Guarantee Happiness?

    “OUT of about 50 students in our school, only 1 or 2 wore shoes,” recalls 45-​year-​old Poching, who grew up in southern Taiwan during the 1950’s. “We couldn’t afford them. However, we never considered ourselves poor. We had all we needed.”

    That was some 40 years ago. Since then, life has changed dramatically for Poching and the rest of the 20 million inhabitants of that island. As the book Facts and Figures​—The Republic of China on Taiwan

    explains, “Taiwan [was] transformed from an agricultural society into a vibrant industrial society.” By the late 1970’s, Taiwan was regarded as “a stable, prosperous society.”

    Indeed, evidence of prosperity is seen everywhere in Taiwan. From the ultramodern high-​rise office complexes that have mushroomed up across the island to the highways crowded with expensive imported automobiles, the material prosperity of Taiwan is the envy of other developing nations. The China Post, Taiwan’s leading English-​language newspaper, boasts that today “the people of Taiwan enjoy the highest living standard in Chinese history.”

    ‘Multitude of Thorny Problems’

    Has all this material prosperity brought the people true happiness and satisfaction? While there is no doubt much that the people of Taiwan are proud of, there is another side to this success story. China Post goes on to point out: “With this high degree of affluence have come a multitude of complicated and thorny problems.” Taiwan’s material

    prosperity has not come without a price.

    Regarding the “complicated and thorny

    problems” that are besetting this once relatively crime-​free island, China Post

    observes: “In recent years crime and disorder have increased alarmingly in our affluent society, posing a growing threat to the lives and property of all law-​abiding citizens.” In an article entitled “Wealth Makes Taiwan a Land of Lust,” the Post

    decries the problems of burgeoning “girlie restaurants and bars” and of illegal houses of prostitution operating under the guise of barbershops. Extortion and kidnapping with the intent to collect a ransom have become another problem. One report speaks of the kidnapping of children as “Taiwan’s new boom industry.” Many resort to such crimes as a means to pay off gambling debts or other financial losses.

    Children are not simply innocent victims of crime. They are increasingly involved in committing crimes. Reports show that in 1989 alone, the number of crimes committed by juveniles jumped 30 percent. Some trace this increase to the breakdown of the family, and statistics seem to support this. For example, from 1977 to 1987, the number of Taiwanese couples who married decreased, but the divorce rate more than doubled. Since Chinese culture traditionally emphasizes the importance of the family in a stable society, it is no wonder that many are very concerned about the worsening conditions.

    Root of the Problem

    Various explanations have been offered in an effort to determine the reason for the deterioration of social order in the midst of a prosperous society. Some people, being rather philosophical, say that it is just the price of success. But putting the blame on success or prosperity is like blaming food for gluttony. Not all who eat are gluttons, nor is everyone who is prosperous materialistic or a criminal. No, material prosperity does not in itself cause crime and social disorder.

    An editorial in the China Post pointed to a major contributing factor. It said: “We have, over the decades, laid too great an emphasis on material development. This is responsible for the decline of moral and spiritual values in our society today.” (Italics ours.) Yes, overemphasizing the pursuit of material things leads to a spirit of materialism and greed. It promotes self-​centeredness. It is just such a spirit that leads to family breakdown and a proliferation of social ills. What the Bible said 2,000 years ago is still true: “The love of money [not money itself] is a root of all sorts of injurious things.”​— 1 Timothy 6:10 .

    A Worldwide Problem

    In search of peace and quiet​—and safety—​thousands have emigrated from Taiwan to other countries. But the problems Taiwan is experiencing are not unique to Taiwan. They are rampant worldwide.

    Some years ago a study showed that the wealthiest county in California, U.S.A., had the highest divorce rate in the country. About 90 percent of all real-​estate transactions in some areas of the county were the result of broken marriages. Twice as many suicides as the national average were reported. The rate of alcoholism was one of the highest in the country, and there were said to be more psychiatrists and other mental therapists in the county per capita than anywhere else in the United States.

    Jesus Christ pointed out a fundamental truth when he said: “Man must live, not on bread alone, but on every utterance coming forth through Jehovah’s mouth.” (Matthew 4:4 ) Material possessions, no matter how abundant, cannot satisfy a person’s every need, nor can they guarantee happiness. On the contrary, it is often as a Chinese saying puts it: “When one is well fed and warm, one’s thoughts turn to excesses and fleshly desires.” This is demonstrated by what is taking place in Taiwan and elsewhere​—material prosperity alone often turns out to be the prelude to moral and social decay and its attendant problems.

    What, then, is needed so that material

    prosperity can be a part of real and lasting happiness? For an answer, please read the following article.

    [Blurb on page 6]

    “When one is well fed and warm, one’s thoughts turn to excesses and fleshly desires.”​— Chinese saying

    [Picture on page 5]

    Material affluence turned small towns into bustling, neon-​lit cities

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