Monday, April 21, 2008

More on happiness

In a previous blog ("Scientific progress goes `boink' ") I mentioned a previously held position about happiness - that poorer people could be happier than rich people - and the fact that recent research is indicating the converse to be true.

I have managed to compile a little more information on this story. The older result is attributed to, among others, Richard Easterlin, a USC professor of Economics. You can check out his own homepage. The paradox that "happiness at a national level does not increase with wealth once basic needs are fulfilled" is sometimes called the Easterlin Paradox.

A recent challenge to it, based on research done at the Brookings Institution, is discussed in the New York Times article "Maybe money does buy happiness". The article also says Easterlin remains skeptical.

My main take on this situation is that nothing is obvious. A one-line statement that money doesn't buy happiness, or that it does, is liable to be not a scientific result but a push for a certain agenda. Moreover the suggestion that one or the other result is "obvious" needs to be studiously guarded against. I think the study of happiness is still at a rather primitive stage, and hampered by (i) the need of most people to try and fit the answers into a political agenda, even before the answers are known, (ii) the belief of many people that there is nothing to be learned in this area.

I shall conclude by pointing out that though Wikipedia tells us the Brookings Institution has a "left-of-centre" reputation, I believe this location is based on the US-centric scale where the tiniest forms of dissent from capitalist dogma are considered "far left". For such a think tank (based in Washington DC!) to conclude that money doesn't buy happiness would be as likely as your local Imam recommending a pint of Guinness for spiritual advancement!

4 comments:

sulochanosho said...

Good readings on happiness there. All objective studies on happiness may show a relatively right view.

Anonymous said...

Just reading this filled my head with some happy thoughts. I really enjoyed reading parts of your website exploring your diverse interests. By all means continue blogging. I'll be checking back from time to time.

Moshe said...

Hey Sunil, just discovered your blog 3 minutes ago. Good to see you online, hope to also see your non-virtual self in Vancouver soon. You may be interested in this article I finally got to read yesterday:

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/21197

Ramanan said...

Late comment, since I just found your blog ... reminds me of a line from a movie of a TV serial which says "(Money doesnt buy happiness) is a lie rich people tell the poor to prevent them from getting rich" !