This essay The secrets of happiness has a total of 1449 words and 6 pages.
The secrets of happiness
1 There is a paradox at the heart of our civilisation. Individuals want more income. Yet as society has got richer, people have not become happier. Over the past 50 years we have got better homes, more clothes, longer holidays and, above all, better health. Yet surveys show clearly that happiness has not increased in the US, Japan, Continental Europe or Britain.
2 By happiness I mean feeling good – enjoying life and feeling it is wonderful. And by unhappiness I mean feeling bad and wishing things were different. Most people find it easy to say how good they are feeling, and in social surveys such questions get 99 per cent response rates – much higher than the average.
3 It is true that, within any particular society at any particular moment, rich people are on average happier than poorer ones. For example, 41 per cent of people in the top quarter of incomes are ‘very happy’, compared with only 26 per cent of those in the bottom quarter of incomes. The problem is that, over the years, the proportions in each group who are very happy have not changed at all although the real incomes in each group have risen hugely. This is true of all the main western countries.
4 We also know that clinical depression, assessed professionally through population surveys, has risen in most countries. A survey from London University’s Institute of Education, out this month, shows that as many as 29 per cent of women aged 30 in 2000 reported suffering trouble with nerves or feeling low, depressed or sad; the comparable figure in a similar survey, among those aged 36 in 1982, was just 16 per cent. Researchers disagree over the size of the increase, but nobody believes depression has diminished, despite the much greater ease of our material life.
5 Further evidence comes from comparisons between different countries. These show that, where average income per person is less than $15,000 a year - in other words, where many people are near the breadline - extra money really does make people happier. But comparing countries where average income is above that level, happiness seems to be independent of income. For example, the average American is much richer than the average Icelander or Dane, but also less happy.
6 Why is this? Clearly people are comparing their income with some norm and this norm is rising all the time. Thus from 1946-86, the US Gallup poll asked people, ‘What is the smallest amount of money that a family of four n
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