Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What Happiness Research Won't Do

Robert Samuelson pegs happiness research’s pros and cons in his latest op-ed in the Washington Post.

The takeaway:

Still, even the 1990s economic boom didn't produce a happiness boom; the survey figures barely budged. Nor has the growing income inequality since the 1970s produced an unhappiness boom. Between the richest and poorest Americans, happiness gaps have always been large. But income differences in the middle class involve modest or nonexistent differences in happiness. The old adage is true: Money can't buy happiness.

We ultimately get satisfaction from our relations with family and friends, the love we give or receive, the meaning we find in work, service, religion or hobbies. The strongest survey finding is that married people are happier than singles, particularly widowers and divorcees, says Tom Smith of the National Opinion Research Center. An estimated 42.5 percent of married couples say they are "very happy," compared with 18 percent of the divorced.

Ultimately, happiness research won’t show us the best path to happiness, but at least it can show anyone who is willing to have an open mind about where we fool ourselves into thinking what certain things will make us happy.

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