The Happiness Equation

| 9/9/2011 4:39:37 PM

Tags: happiness, economics, money, equality, inequality, emotions, YES! Magazine, Margret Aldrich,


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 

steve eatenson
9/15/2011 11:35:11 AM

Interesting, isn't it, how immature our society is. When we learn to parent better and improve our schools from money making corporate jokes to real schools of higher education maybe we, as a society, will grow up. The rich wrongly think that money and material goods and more and more will make them happier. The poor are jealous because they think someone's getting something they aren't and if they only got more money and material "bling" they would be happier. WRONG! It's a sad situation that is destroying the earth.

Bonnie Newman
9/15/2011 6:37:50 AM

Re: Michelle Flannery "It is ridiculous to think that happiness can be achieved through economic balance". So is it ridiculous to draw the conclusions that research has demonstrated time and time again then? As a buddhist I am well familiar with the concept of happiness coming from within, and as a scientifically minded person I am also aware that there are external conditions that are more conducive to achieving such results. Note I say more conducive, not necessary—if the mind is not already very disciplined, then the more difficult the circumstance, the greater the disturbance in the mind, and the greater the difficulty in achieving happiness.

Michelle Flannery
9/14/2011 10:45:09 AM

True happiness, deep happiness, is an attitude that comes from within when a person can embrace both the positive and negative aspects of their life, and stay focused on the positive, even when there isn't balance between the two. It is ridiculous to think that happiness can be achieved through economic balance, when one observes others growing poorer, and/or less successful while his own circumstances do not change. Oh, but wait, is this "happiness" based on the idea that the other person's loss will somehow find its way into this sad individual's pocket? Hmmm!