I wonder if we have an oxymoron like jumbo shrimp when we talk about the “science of happiness.”
In “The Sad Truth About Happiness Scales,” researchers question our ability to measure happiness with any degree of certainty. One problem among the many they cite is that individuals report happiness in different ways. They also express the subjective impact of the researcher’s choices.
However, we still can ponder the big issues in the following reports. We can contemplate which ones might influence our own happiness or life satisfaction.
The World Happiness Report
Country rank in the World Happiness Report 2019 was based on eight variables. Because the seventh and eighth are statistical necessities, I suggest focusing on the first six. Comparing most of the top ten countries to the bottom ten, you can see that there is a vast difference in GDP per capita (dark purple), social support (pink) and life expectancy (orange).
These are the top ten. The U.S. is #19:
And these are the bottom 10:
Please, do form your own opinion of the types of questions from the Gallup World Poll to which ranking relates. For example, the rating for social support is based on the response to the Gallup question: “If you were in trouble, do you have relatives or friends you can count on to help you whenever you need them, or not?”
A Swedish Study of Money and Happiness
Using Swedish data, economists quantified the impact of sudden wealth from winning the lottery. They compared the winners to other individuals who won less or did not win.
Seeing the results, economists are saying that indeed, money could bring happiness:
Their time frame extended over 22 years. The only downward sloping line is financial well-being:
These are examples of questions from this study. Respondents could have replied, never, sometimes, often, always:
How To Be Less Happy
Finally, in another paper from 2018, researchers asked about the impact of pursuing happiness. Comparing individuals who did and did not try to create happiness in their lives, they suggest we are happiest when not trying to be happy. The reason? Using time (especially), energy, and resources in the present to create a happier future creates stress. It uses those resources for future deployment rather than current happiness. And, for that reason, we are less happy now. In fact, if we keep trying to guarantee future happiness, it becomes a never ending quest that creates a less happy present.
Our Bottom Line: Measuring Happiness
Sometimes numbers can convey a precision that does not really exist…like measuring happiness.
My sources and more: To get the big picture (and see why I remain skeptical of the metrics), I started with the UN’s World Happiness Report 2019. Then, for recent research on money and happiness, do look at this NY Times column from Justin Wolfers and the paper that he refers to. And lastly, this paper and NY Times column explain the pursuing happiness research. Finally, do take a look at our econlife post on money and happiness. You will see again why the topic is rather complicated.
And do think about our featured image. If money rained from the sky, rather than making everyone happy, its unlimited quantity would vastly diminish its value…and make everyone sad. Perhaps another oxymoron?