Monday, July 03, 2006

In the news: Happiness research confirms money can't buy happiness

From today's WaPo, a piece about an article in Science about the reasons why money can't buy happiness:
The journal Science reported last week yet more evidence and another theory about why wealth does not make people happy: "The belief that high income is associated with good mood is widespread but mostly illusory," one of its studies concluded. "People with above-average income . . . are barely happier than others in moment-to-moment experience, tend to be more tense, and do not spend more time in particularly enjoyable activities. The effect of income on life satisfaction seems to be transient. We argue that people exaggerate the contribution of income to happiness because they focus, in part, on conventional achievements when evaluating their lives and the lives of others."

"People grossly exaggerate the impact that higher incomes would have on their subjective well-being," said Alan Krueger, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University and an author of the study. "If you want to know why I think poor people are not that miserable, it is because they are able to enjoy things that Bill Gates has not been able to enjoy, given his schedule at Microsoft," Krueger surmised. Link.

I'm intrigued by the emerging discipline of happiness studies. At some level, studies like this one provoke a "Well, duh" reaction. But really, what if this kind of research could be translated into actual changes in human behavior? What if it somehow trickled into human consciousness? Couldn't it really make a dent in the human condition in a way that all the other sciences can't?

On the other hand, based on personal experience, discovering the reasons why one isn't happier doesn't necessarily lead to changes in behavior. That's a problem behavioral science and neuroscience (and religion?) have been working on for a long time. Even if there is some information to be gained from this kind of research about how to live better, what's it for?

Well, I guess, it's for me. I find it somehow comforting to know that, based on published, peer-reviewed research, winning the lottery wouldn't make me happier in the long term. I find it especially comforting to know that I'm capable, on a biological level, of adapting to pretty much any awfulness Fate tosses at me. If only I could remember this stuff when making the big decisions in my life.

Now, what's the Powerball jackpot up to this week?

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