Thursday, June 12, 2008

Understanding Happiness

For the first time in months I was able to have a relaxing Saturday morning (ok, it was two weeks ago now ...). I was neither so exhausted from the week nor rushing around to complete my list of tasks. I hope to have more mornings like this, if I can do it. You see, dear reader, it was not that I had an easy 5 X 9-to-5 or that the honey-do-list was finished, I just decided to stress less.

With a coffee in hand, I enjoyed Saturday's (May 31st) Globe and Mail. In particular, Margaret Wente wrote an article entitled: "The happiness ... gap" . As the title suggests, Margaret filled this week's commentary by given a punchy review of "Gross National Happiness", by Arthur Brooks (a political scientist, not an economist but we will not hold that against him ... much). The gap referred to in the title is about the happiness gap between US conservatives and liberals that has now lasted for at least a generation (note: this is not Canadian data and comparisons are limited, but ...). The conclusion that Brooks draws is that this gap is driven by marriage and religion. Although I believe that the book may be a stirring read (in other words, it might really make you mad! Like where is the economics eh?), I loved the way this article reads.

Let me share two parts of the article with you, and I hope you will read the rest:
The intro:
"Here's a bit of bad news for all my latte-loving, liberal-leaning friends who believe that jobs in retail stink, traditional religion is for morons, and income inequality has made society a lot worse off. You're a miserable bunch. "

A highlight:
Beyond marriage and religion?
"There's another factor, too, which, he argues, centres on world view. Conservatives generally believe that people who work hard can get ahead and be successful. They believe success is in their own control. Liberals are more inclined to believe in collective solutions to social problems – and that people's success depends on factors outside their control. 'I compared poor conservatives with rich liberals,' he told me. 'Ninety per cent of poor conservatives say that hard work and perseverance can overcome disadvantage. But only 65 per cent of rich liberals believe that.'"

What to take away from this article?
1.) Money (alone?) does not produce happiness (there is only marginal-to-no return beyond the median wage - aka having a decent security).
2.) The equality of opportunity is important to everyone (yeah education!).
3.) Happiness is U-shaped in terms of age (44 year old men cry like babies).
4.) Give away your money and time to find happiness.

Please share you thoughts.

Appendix: What about Canadians?
My favorite Canadian on this topic is John Helliwell. See this G&M article from last fall with some great economic analysis (ok, I can't resist sharing this): "Using Canadian survey data and some mind-numbing arithmetic, Helliwell and UBC colleague Haifang Huang were able to put a cash value on the effect of job satisfaction on general happiness. That number varies along a bell curve. But take, for example, a single employee who rates her job satisfaction a nine out of 10, and who makes $65,000 a year. Imagine some work-culture corrosion triggers a one-point drop in her job satisfaction. It would take an extra $30,000 a year to compensate for the negative effect this would have on her general happiness."

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