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Searching for Happiness

7/8/2006 - 2:40 PM PST

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Money Can't Buy it All

NEW YORK, JULY 8, 2006 (Zenit) - Recent research on the age-old search for happiness is confirming the opinion that material wealth alone does not bring lasting satisfaction.

A recent article in the Science journal asserted that it's illusory to think high income brings automatic happiness.

On July 3, the Washington Post reported on the Science study in which researchers concluded that people with above-average income are barely happier than others, and they tend to be more tense.

"People grossly exaggerate the impact that higher incomes would have on their subjective well-being," said Alan Krueger, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University, and one of the authors of the study.

According to the Post, an abundance of data over the last years shows that once personal wealth exceeds about $12,000 a year, more money produces virtually no increase in life satisfaction.

Just a few days previously, researchers published a study showing Iceland to be the country with the happiest people, followed by Australia.

Information on the study, by economists Andrew Leigh, of the Australian National University, and Justin Wolfers, of Wharton University in Pennsylvania, was published in an Australian newspaper, the Adelaide Advertiser, on June 28.

Leigh said that while research shows that most developed nations generally enjoy a high level of happiness, surveys also showed that people in some relatively poor developing countries were happier than those of the developed world. Mexicans and Nigerians, for example, score well on happiness in spite of the lower incomes in these nations.

More information on the subject comes from Scotland, where researchers from Aberdeen University concluded that job satisfaction is the key to personal happiness.

However, in the June 30 report in the Scotsman, lead researcher Ioannis Theodossiou said that job satisfaction does not exclusively depend on wages, though this does have an important role. Other factors such as job security and control over working hours also play an important role in determining satisfaction, and therefore personal happiness.

The material temptation

An in-depth look at the relationship between material wealth and happiness came in a recently-published book entitled, "The Challenge of Affluence" (Oxford University Press). Written by Avner Offer, professor of economic history at Oxford University, the book examines the experience of Britain and the United States since 1950.

In this period, Offer observes, Americans and Britons have come to enjoy unprecedented material abundance. Since the 1970s, however, self-reported levels of happiness have languished or even declined, so the rise in incomes since then has done little or nothing to improve the sense of well-being. Along with this, there are numerous social and personal problems: family breakdown; addictions; crime; economic insecurity; and declining trust.

Liberal societies hold out the promise that every person can choose their own way to self-fulfillment. The free society and the free market give the individual conditions for pursuing wealth and making choices. But choice is also fallible, not always consistent and, moreover, achieving more remote objectives requires a high level of commitment.

Therefore, exercising choice requires self-control and prudence, qualities increasingly uncommon in affluent societies. In fact, competitive market societies favor novelty and innovation, and this undermines conventions, habits and institutions.

Offer argues that a market system also tends to promote short-term rewards, individualism and hedonism. This undermines the commitment needed to achieve more satisfying longer-term rewards that are more difficult to obtain, but more fulfilling.

Offer believes that another factor undermining our happiness is relative income inequality. In both Britain and the United States inequality has worsened in recent years and this is a major factor in explaining people's lack of satisfaction with their situation. People who enjoy rising incomes, but see themselves falling behind others who are enjoying even greater progress, do not derive happiness from their improved situation.

Love, marriage and the family is another area where failures have damaged our happiness. A combination of contraception, no-fault divorce, more cohabitation and higher levels of childbirth out of wedlock have weakened marriage. A rise in explicit sexuality and in sexual relationships outside of marriage has also weakened the capacity for love and commitment within the marriage bond.

Marriage, Offer notes, confers important benefits: physical and mental health; longer life; happiness; along with numerous benefits for children. The proportion of married ...

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