Saturday, December 29, 2007

Will We Ever Be Happy?

Albert Schweitzer once said, "Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory." If that's the case, though, more money and economic growth should certainly increase our happiness. This piece in the New York Times presents both sides of the economic growth/happiness argument. I'm curious, though - do you think economic growth leads to increased overall happiness, or do you think a higher standard of living just leads to higher expectations?

Thanks to the guys at Freakonomics for the pointer.

1 comment:

Zachary Piso said...

I think the most obvious point of stasis in this challenge to the Easterlin paradox is the fact that the countries showing a correlation between happiness and wealth (the poor, and hence "developing" nations) were familiar with the standard of living present in the first world.

The most compelling argument for why money can't buy happiness is that increased wealth brings an increased standard of living, and since satisfaction is relative, people don't experience a substantial gain. This article cites research based on "decades of polling" done in countries that already had a standard of comparison (i.e. the US, Japan, western europe). Their economic growth did not parallel an increasing standard of living, but instead approached an idealized notion of how first world citizens lived.

The interesting concept here is how the realization of an ideal can contribute to happiness, not how wealth was valued. Perhaps a revision of policies to spur more goal-driven economic growth would be beneficial. Oddly, since money is intangible (and hence limited in the ways of qualitative growth), I think these programs would likely ring a bit socialistic.

Compared with the totality of knowledge which is continually utilized in the evolution of a dynamic civilization, the difference between the knowledge that the wisest and that which the most ignorant individual can deliberately employ is comparatively insignificant. ~Fredrich Hayek in The Constitution of Liberty