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The Sweet Pursuit

Former Associate editor Margret Aldrich on the hunt for happiness, community, and how humans thrive

The Happiness Equation


Economic equality equals happiness. So suggests a new study to be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science. In order for Americans to be truly blissed out, it finds, we need to close the gap between our wealthiest and poorest citizens.

“In 1980, the average American CEO’s income was 40 times higher than that of the average worker. Today, it is well over 300 times higher,” writes Carmen Sobczak in YES! Magazine. “Over the past four decades, according to the study, the American people have been the least happy in years when there was the widest gap between rich and poor.”

The study, lead by Shigehiro Oishi of the University of Virginia, took into account economic and psychological factors when examining data taken from 50,000 individuals between 1972 and 2008. Not surprisingly it was the lower-income participants—those in the bottom 40 percent of the U.S. population—who expressed reduced happiness during periods of greater economic disparity, but their reasons for dissatisfaction were unexpected. Expains Sobczak:

People weren’t unhappy just because their income was lower. Instead, the authors’ analysis revealed that greater inequality was linked to reductions in trust and perceived fairness—and it was drops in those attitudes that made people feel less happy.... Oishi and his colleagues argue that their results may explain why economic growth has not been accompanied by increases in happiness in the United States, unlike in other developed nations. The problem, they suggest, is that gains in national wealth in the U.S. haven’t been distributed equally, and this inequality has caused Americans’ happiness to suffer.

Oishi offers this lucent formula to fix our happiness dilemma: “If the ultimate goal of society is to make its citizens happy, then it is desirable to consider policies that produce more income equality, fairness, and general trust.”

Sources: YES! Magazine 

Image by Amber de Bruin, licensed under Creative Commons.