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Wealth does not create individual happiness and it doesn’t build a strong country, either


A study in the recent issue of Psychological Science in the Public Interest addresses how economic status is no longer a sufficient gauge of a nation’s well-being. The authors argue that the psychological well-being of its citizens is the greatest measure of a nation-- not the well-being of its economy. "While wealth has trebled over the past 50 years…well-being has been flat, mental illness has increased at an even more rapid rate, and data, not just nostalgic reminiscences, indicate that the social fabric is more frayed than it was in leaner times," the authors state. Prosperity is neither the answer nor the cause of satisfaction. The study calls for an ongoing systematic set of national indicators of well-being to report on a society and aid in its policy-making.

It has been assumed that money increases well-being and, although money can be measured with exactitude, it is an inexact surrogate to the actual well-being of a nation. In a 1985 survey, respondents from the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans and the Maasai of East Africa were almost equally satisfied and ranked relatively high in well-being. The Maasai are a traditional herding people who have no electricity or running water and live in huts made of dung. It follows, that economic development and personal income must not account for the happiness that they are so often linked to. "Scientists are now in the position to assess well-being directly, and therefore should establish a system... to supplement the economic measures," encouraged the report authors, Ed Diener, University of Illinois, and Martin E.P. Seligman, University of Pennsylvania.

The variables measured would include engagement, purpose and meaning, optimism and trust, and positive and negative emotions in specific areas such as work life and social relationships. The periodic assessment of a sample of the population would provide policymakers with a much stronger basis to gauge the well-being of the nation. It would allow them to refocus. "After all, if economic and other polices are important because they will in the end increase well-being, why not assess well-being more directly" the authors ask?

Ed Diener | EurekAlert!
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