Oct 30, 2013

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Happiness vs. Stuff

Happiness vs. Stuff
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Surrounded in a sea of thoughts and ideas, we all have been bombarded with the idea that the more “stuff” we have, the happier we’ll be. That those poor people in those countries where they live without electricity have no idea what they’re missing here “in the land of the free.”

Yet, in one of my favorite reads online, Why Having More No Longer Make Us Happy points out just how false of an assumption this is, looking at the connection between “stuff” and actual day-to-day happiness. I invite you to take the time to read it yourself, and notice what feelings get stirred within you as you read it (click on the title above or here to read the original article).

Some of my favorite quotes from it regarding happiness:

Which means, according to new research emerging from many quarters, that our continued devotion to growth above all is, on balance, making our lives worse, both collectively and individually. Growth no longer makes most people wealthier, but instead generates inequality and insecurity. Growth is bumping up against physical limits so profound — like climate change and peak oil — that trying to keep expanding the economy may be not just impossible but also dangerous. And perhaps most surprisingly, growth no longer makes us happier . Given our current dogma, that’s as bizarre an idea as proposing that gravity pushes apples skyward. But then, even Newtonian physics eventually shifted to acknowledge Einstein’s more complicated universe.

 

Even though the economy continues to grow, most of us are no longer getting wealthier. The average wage in the United States is less now, in real dollars, than it was 30 years ago. Even for those with college degrees, and though productivity was growing faster than it had for decades, between 2000 and 2004 earnings fell 5.2 percent when adjusted for inflation, according to the most recent data from White House economists. Much the same thing has happened across most of the globe. More than 60 countries around the world, in fact, have seen incomes per capita fall in the past decade.

 

The environmentalist Alan Durning found that in 1991 the average American family owned twice as many cars as it did in 1950, drove 2.5 times as far, used 21 times as much plastic, and traveled 25 times farther by air. Gross national product per capita tripled during that period. Our houses are bigger than ever and stuffed to the rafters with belongings (which is why the storage-locker industry has doubled in size in the past decade). We have all sorts of other new delights and powers — we can send email from our cars, watch 200 channels, consume food from every corner of the world. Some people have taken much more than their share, but on average, all of us in the West are living lives materially more abundant than most people a generation ago.

What’s odd is, none of it appears to have made us happier. Throughout the postwar years, even as the gnp curve has steadily climbed, the “life satisfaction” index has stayed exactly the same. Since 1972, the National Opinion Research Center has surveyed Americans on the question: “Taking all things together, how would you say things are these days — would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?” (This must be a somewhat unsettling interview.) The “very happy” number peaked at 38 percent in the 1974 poll, amid oil shock and economic malaise; it now hovers right around 33 percent.

 

If happiness was our goal, then the unbelievable amount of effort and resources expended in its pursuit since 1950 has been largely a waste. One study of life satisfaction and mental health by Emory University professor Corey Keyes found just 17 percent of Americans “flourishing,” in mental health terms, and 26 percent either “languishing” or out-and-out depressed.

More to read

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