Friday, June 16, 2006

The Secret to Happiness

Does such unsustainable consumption enable the good life? Does being well-off make for well-being? Would people—would you—be happier if you could exchange a modest lifestyle for one with a world-class home entertainment system, winter skiing from your condo along the Aspen slopes, and being wined and dined on executive class travel? Social psychology theory and research offer some clear answers.

Are rich people happier?
To a modest extent, yes, rich people are happier. Especially in poor countries, such as India, being relatively well-off does make for greater well-being. We need food, rest, shelter, and some sense of control over our lives.

But in affluent countries, the link between wealth and self-reported well-being is “surprisingly weak,” notes researcher Ronald Inglehart. Once able to afford life’s necessities, more and more money provides diminishing additional returns. Even the very rich—for example, the Forbes 100 wealthiest Americans in a 1980s survey by psychologist Ed Diener and his colleagues—are only slightly happier than average.

These facts of life lead us to a startling conclusion: Our becoming better off materially has not made us better off psychologically. In the U.S., Europe, and Japan, affluence has not purchased the good life. The conclusion startles because it challenges modern materialism: Economic growth in affluent countries has provided no apparent boost to human morale.

It is further striking that those who strive most for wealth tend to live with lower well-being, a finding that “comes through very strongly in every culture I’ve looked at,” reports psychologist Richard Ryan.

If affluence and materialism are not major ingredients for the good life, research indicates those that are:

* Close, supportive relationships. We humans have what today’s social psychologists call a deep “need to belong.” Those supported by intimate friendships or a committed marriage are much likelier to declare themselves “very happy.”
* Faith communities. Connection, meaning, and deep hope are often nourished in congregations. In National Opinion Research Center surveys of 42,000 Americans since 1972, 26 percent of those rarely or never attending religious services declared themselves very happy, as did 47 percent of those attending multiple times weekly.
* Positive traits. Optimism, self-esteem, and perceived control over one’s life are among the traits that mark happy experiences and happy lives. Happy people typically report feeling an “internal locus of control”—they feel empowered. When deprived of control over one’s life—an experience studied in prisoners, nursing home patients, and people living under totalitarian regimes—people suffer lower morale and worse health. Severe poverty demoralizes when it erodes people’s sense of control over their life circumstances.
* Flow. Work and leisure experiences that engage one’s skills also enable the good life. Between the anxiety of being overwhelmed and stressed, and the apathy of being underwhelmed and bored, lies a zone in which people experience flow—an optimal state in which, absorbed in an activity, they lose consciousness of self and time. Flow theorist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi found people reporting their greatest enjoyment not when mindlessly passive, but when unself-consciously absorbed in a mindful challenge. Most people are happier gardening than power-boating, talking to friends than watching TV. Low consumption recreations prove satisfying.
via Futurenet

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.