Monday, November 12, 2007

All They Are Saying Is Give Happiness a Chance

[12 November 2007 - New York Times - Opinion] ... The era of laissez-faire happiness might be coming to an end. Some prominent economists and psychologists are looking into ways to measure happiness to draw it into the public policy realm. Thirty years from now, reducing unhappiness could become another target of policy, like cutting poverty. ... Despite happiness’ apparently Sisyphean nature, there may be ways to increase satisfaction over the long term. While the extra happiness derived from a raise or a winning lottery ticket might be fleeting, studies have found that the happiness people derive from free time or social interaction is less susceptible to comparisons with other people around them. Nonmonetary rewards -- like more vacations, or more time with friends or family -- are likely to produce more lasting changes in satisfaction. This swings the door wide open for government intervention. On a small scale, congestion taxes to encourage people to carpool would reduce the distress of the solo morning commute, which apparently drives people nuts. More broadly, if the object of public policy is to maximize society’s well-being, more attention should be placed on fostering social interactions and less on accumulating wealth. If growing incomes are not increasing happiness, perhaps we should tax incomes more to force us to devote less time and energy to the endeavor and focus instead on the more satisfying pursuit of leisure. One thing seems certain, lining up every policy incentive to strive for higher and higher incomes is just going to make us all miserable. Happiness is one of the things that money just can’t buy. More

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