See the thought-provoking article by Tim Harford in Slate: http://www.slate.com/id/2207406
Here's a snippet:
Here's the big question of the season, then: Why don't we do as countless moralists urge every year and focus less on money and more on leisure (or spiritual concerns, if you must)? Why haven't we all decided to work less, spend less, and consume less?
There is an anti-consumer movement with a ready answer: We're helpless, enthralled by advertisers and hooked on shopping. I've always had a slightly more optimistic view of human autonomy.
A more convincing answer is that we work hard because income is linked to our desire for status, which is collectively insatiable, because status is largely relative. A famous survey by economists Sara Solnick and David Hemenway found that many Harvard students (although few Harvard staff members) would rather have an income of $50,000 in a world where most people were poorer than an income of $100,000 in a world where most people were richer. The survey has arguably been overinterpreted in the 10 years since it was published, but it does seem to point to an important truth: It matters to us how much money other people have.