Wednesday, April 11, 2007

And we don't get happier

From the article The Pursuit of Happiness in Perspective on Cato Unbound:
Richard Layard, for example, one of the most influential proponents of using the new science of happiness to guide public policy, concedes that “In the West we have a society that is probably as happy as any there has ever been.”[13] And yet he and others point to survey data collected since the 1950s that asks citizens whether they are "very happy," "pretty happy," or "not too happy." Essentially, those numbers have not changed, despite massive increases during the same period of Gross National Product (GNP). Layard and his colleagues regard this data as indicative of what the journalist Gregg Easterbrook calls the “progress paradox”: as people get richer, they don’t appear to get happier, or at least not very much after a certain minimum threshold has been crossed.

For some reason, I always have this feeling that there is more unhappiness and discontent than there used to be just a few decades ago, but perhaps it isn't true? Does anyone else feel this way?

The baby boomer generation today certainly seems to think that today's youth is unhappier than they were at that age. Is it possible that people are just more open now? If in the 50's you were supposed to suck it up, internalize your unhappiness, and make everyone think you were doing alright, then it would make sense that kids today seem different...even though the only difference is that it's "okay" to be unhappy?

There are more "gateway" outlets for expressing your unhappiness (primarily through blogs, email, IM, and sites like MySpace). It's often much easier to divulge your innermost feelings in a medium like email or blogs, because you have more time to think, and you don't have to worry about the reaction from whoever happens to be reading in the same way you would if you were having a face to face conversation.

The fact that wealth doesn't increase happiness shouldn't surprise us too much. Although many people confuse things, believing that wealth will make them happier (or give them more opportunities for happiness), only to realize later that it doesn't matter much. An unhappy poor person who becomes rich will probably still be unhappy.

It's hard to believe that happiness levels have not changed much over the years. You'd think it would have to be going one way or the other. Does the fact that it hasn't changed make you more or less hopeful?

Of course, I'm an optimist, so I interpret that as "it doesn't matter what your situation is, happiness is internal, and it's up to you".

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