Interesting stuff on happiness! Two main conclusions here:
- Happiness is based on relatives measures as opposed to absolute
- Happiness may be equated to Satisfaction as opposed to fulfillment
What do you think? What makes you happy? Look at the story below to see our paradox!
Imagine you have a choice between earning $50,000 a year while other people make $25,000 or earning $100,000 a year while other people get $250,000. Prices of goods and services are the same. Which would you prefer? Surprisingly, studies show that the majority of people select the first option. As H. L. Mencken is said to have quipped, "A wealthy man is one who earns $100 a year more than his wife’s sister’s husband."
This seemingly illogical preference is just one of the puzzles that science is trying to solve about why happiness can be so elusive in today’s world. Several recent books by researchers address the topic, but my skeptic’s eye found a historian’s long-view analysis to be ultimately the most enlightening.
Consider a paradox outlined by London School of Economics economist Richard Layard in Happiness (Penguin, 2005), in which he shows that we are no happier even though average incomes have more than doubled since 1950 and "we have more food, more clothes, more cars, bigger houses, more central heating, more foreign holidays, a shorter working week, nicer work and, above all, better health." Once average annual income is above $20,000 a head, higher pay brings no greater happiness. Why? One, our genes account for roughly half of our predisposition to be happy or unhappy, and two, our wants are relative to what other people have, not to some absolute measure.
Happiness is better equated with satisfaction than pleasure, says Emory University psychiatrist Gregory Berns in Satisfaction (Henry Holt, 2005), because the pursuit of pleasure lands us on a never-ending hedonic treadmill that paradoxically leads to misery. "Satisfaction is an emotion that captures the uniquely human need to impart meaning to one’s activities," Berns concludes. "While you might find pleasure by happenstance–winning the lottery, possessing the genes for a sunny temperament, or having the luck not to live in poverty–satisfaction can arise only by the conscious decision to do something. And this makes all the difference in the world, because it is only your own actions for which you may take responsibility and credit."
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