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Monday, April 02, 2007

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of.”

Hmmm, the French philosopher Camus would not approve, but I have some odds and ends left over from my previous blog on happiness and well-being.

1. The New York Times published a much fancier graphic on happiness by country than mine but with out-dated stats (’95) on per capita income.

2. In their article titled “Reversal of Fortune,” this month’s issue of Mother Jones magazine (March/April 2007) refutes the axiom “Make money, get happy.” They report that money consistently buys happiness right up to about $10,000 income per capita – what an average Mexican earned in 2006 while achieving the second ranking in the World Values Survey on happiness and well-being.* Folks at the poverty level get a great lift from even a small reversal of misfortune. The author, Bill Mckibben, calls this the “Laura Ingalls Wilder effect” after the writer made famous by “Little House on the Prairie”. One of my favorite stories is Wilder’s reminiscence of Christmas on the banks of Plum Creek near Walnut Grove, Minnesota, in 1875. Her parents could only afford to give less than a dozen pieces of hard candy to each of their children, but this sufficed to create great happiness in the prairie-dwellers’ dugout. This really puts things in perspective!

* Evidenced in Figure 1 presented by Ed Diener (University of Illinois, Gallup Organization) and Martin E.P. Seligman (University of Pennsylvania) in their article Beyond Money Toward an Economy of Well-Being. It shows that “Over the past 50 years, income has climbed steadily in the United States, with the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita tripling, and yet life satisfaction has been virtually flat.

3. The San Francisco Chronicle (12/24/00,Science Tracks the Good Life ) offered this list of the most important sources of personal happiness from researcher Michael Hagerty:
-- Close ties to friends and family;
-- Wide political freedom*
-- High income, and
-- A narrow gap between rich and poor.
According to Hagerty’s analysis, the United States is the fifth-happiest nation, a fact that baffled him because for the most part, the top-rated countries are small and homogeneous. That may explain Puerto Rico’s positive feelings of well-being.

*(See also Democracy and Happiness: What Causes What? by Ronald Inglehart (University of Michigan).)

4. Here are some other topical references I found on the internet, but after I reached a point of diminishing happiness trying to find the secret to happiness (Camus was right!):

a. The Reliability of Subjective Well-Being Measures by Alan B. Krueger (Princeton University) and David A. Schkade (University of California, San Diego).

b. A Simple Statistical Method For Measuring How Life Events Affect Happiness by Andrew E. Clark (CNRS and DELTA, Paris, France) and Andrew J. Oswald (Department of Economics, University of Warwick, UK).

(Photo of Guatemalan girl by K. M. Anderson)


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