Wednesday, September 10, 2008

For Everything Else, there's...

Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness.
-Zhuang Zhou

The above quote appears in a philosophical book I somehow happen to be reading (I'm not big on philosophy - I'd rather make up stories about Godot than wait for him). Economists have gone the way of Zhou recently, taking up happiness economics.

The tears and spiritual tribulations of our national character seem tasty fodder for makers of happiness indices, who trumpet the fact that the US ranks 23, whereas Denmark takes top honors and Burundi barely scrapes by at the bottom.

Perhaps Americans refuse to be satisfied. I believe it, and sometimes I think that's the central tug in our fabled river of optimism. But who knows? Philosopher Jeremy Bentham was a little ahead of his time when he suggested that the separation of church and state, equal rights for women, the abolition of slavery, the right to divorce, the practice of free trade and the decriminalization of homosexuality were the prescription for a social panacea. But then again, Bentham was one of the first people to care about happiness, and incidentally, his markers seem to accurately describe the policy situation in Denmark.

A paper on the subject found (maybe not shockingly) that "Deprivation and abject poverty in particular are very bad for happiness" but that otherwise money made very little difference in the long run.

Nowadays, critics point to everything from American dependence on fossil fuels to reality TV as indicators that we are a nation of tristes (or in the latter case, on the verge of Apocalypse.)

No comments: