What Makes You Happy?

Taken from The Economist 25/02/2012

There’s a saying: Money can’t buy you happiness. Numerous surveys have shown that this is indeed true, the people in the richest countries are seldom the happiest ones. Today’s Economist has a very interesting article about the connection between income and happiness and how it has changed from (pre-crises) 2007 to 2011. Apart from stating the obvious, the article brings up a very striking fact:

Overall happiness levels have  r i s e n  during the crises.

In fact, they have risen quite significantly in most of the countries. Considering how many people have lost their income or home or both in the last four years how can this be? How is it possible that after the tsunami and the nuclear disaster the people in Japan are fully 6 percentage points happier than 4 years ago?

Let me tell you why. Having a lot of money does not make you happy. It can satisfy you, but it certainly will not make you happy. What really makes you happy is when you have excellent relationships in your life. With your special one, your family, your friends, colleagues and other people. The opposite also holds true: missing those relationships can make you genuinely unhappy. Individuals who commit suicide often leave chilling notes that reveal just how lonely they were.

Two rather happy monkeys

But how does it explain why the happiness levels have risen?

During the recession, there are fewer business opportunities and less work to do. The priorities shift from the office to other places (home). People have more time to spend with their beloved ones and then they suddenly realise that life is beautiful. Suddenly it is not important that the Joneses have a newer car and a bigger pool in the courtyard.

In the economic growth, the focus shifts back to working and people get to spend less time with their close ones. As counterintuitive as it is, in addition to the empty gypsum houses in the field, the economic boom also produces unhappy people.

All of this does not mean that pursuing professional career should be avoided. In fact, I totally support having goals and working your ass off to get there. But just do not have the misconception that the seven-digit figure in your bank account and 20-inch alloy wheels on your new X5 will make you happy. They won’t. And the Joneses will catch up soon, too.


4 thoughts on “What Makes You Happy?

  1. Janar, Richard’s talk is good allright, but it misses the most important point.

    Take a look at the inequality map here – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gini_Coefficient_World_CIA_Report_2009.png . In this map 0 means perfect equality and 1 perfect inequality. When you combine it with the The Economist’s graph added to my posting, you can see that Indonesia, India and Brasil have much more inequality than the european countries. Yet those three are the happiest countries in the world whereas europeans are rather unhappy.

    It is not the inequality (even inside the country) itself that makes people unhappy but rather the culture of making this meaningful for yourself. Concentrating on beating the Joneses (and then Smiths) is a proven way to the unhappiness, both for yourself and for Joneses and Smiths, too. Concentrating in family and other similar values (the case of India and Indonesia for example) is much better. In terms of happiness at least.

  2. It’s a good point Lauri – this inequality (in the talk) is still having a basis that people consider income as “very important” success measure of their life. As soon as it’s not important yet/anymore you are free to be happy (at least regarding this parameter).

    My question would be – do you think people in Indonesia and India can be/will be also brainwashed to steer towards our way of living or is it their choice that they do not care about beating Joneses? Or it seems more likely that they are still on their way to learn this lesson (and I don’t mean that we have learned ours yet:)?

  3. Exactly, Janar. Unfortunately, the future does not look to bright for Indonesia and India though. The experience shows that once the countries get richer, the focus changes and the overall happiness declines.

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