The Princeton University economist Angus Deaton on Monday won the Nobel Prize in economic sciences. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm awarded the prize to the joint U.S. and British citizen for his work on consumption, poverty and welfare. Announcing his win, the Royal Swedish Academy commended Deaton on how people spend their money on different goods, how much of society’s income is spent and saved, and how we can best measure welfare and poverty.
“To design economic policy that promotes welfare and reduces poverty, we must first understand individual consumption choices,” it said. “More than anyone else, Angus Deaton has enhanced this understanding. By linking detailed individual choices and aggregate outcomes, his research has helped transform the fields of microeconomics, macroeconomics, and development economics.”
But Deaton is also renowned for his work with a previous Nobel Prize winner, psychologist Daniel Kahneman, which concluded that emotional well-being rises with income, but there is no further progress beyond an annual income of $75,000. “Low income exacerbates the emotional pain associated with such misfortunes as divorce, ill health, and being alone,” the landmark 2010 study found. “We conclude that high income buys life satisfaction but not happiness, and that low income is associated both with low life evaluation and low emotional well-being.”
NORM ‘n’ AL Note: Please read that paragraph above a couple more times: “No further progress [toward emotional well-being] beyond an annual income of $75,000.” Also “high income buys life satisfaction but not happiness.” In our experience, NOTHING buys happiness, because happiness by definition depends on what is happening to you or around you. Your goal should not be happiness, but rather JOY. Again, in our experience, nothing produces joy but the realization that THIS LIFE IS NOT ALL THERE IS. In fact, this world is not all there is. There is an eternity beyond this life and this world, and it is going to be so wonderful and magnificent that we cannot even imagine it. A well known Christian writer, Beth Moore, has commented that “You might think heaven will be heaven because God will be there. God thinks it will be heaven because you will be there.” Something worth thinking about.
The question of happiness and wealth has long puzzled economists. Some people recently expressed surprise that New York City — the home of Broadway, the Statue of Liberty and Central Park — was ranked as the No. 1 city where Americans are unhappiest, according to an analysis of data from the U.S. Census and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authored by economists at Harvard University and the University of British Columbia. “Newer residents of these cities appear to be as unhappy as longer term residents, and yet some people continue to move to these areas,” it found. (Incidentally, Lafayette, La. ranked No. 1 for the happiest.)
Other studies have suggested that Americans are increasingly unhappy. In fact, they’re less happy compared with a decade ago, according to a recent Fox News poll jointly conducted by Anderson Robbins Research and Shaw & Company Research. Some 53% of Americans were “very happy” or “happy.” And while that’s a (slim) majority, it’s still down from 56% in 2009 and a significant slump from 68% in 2001, previous studies concluded. And the rate of antidepressant use has surged 400% over the last decade, according to the CDC, though that may also be due to the heavy marketing of drugs like Zoloft, Lexapro and Paxil.
There’s been some backlash online. This grouchy video mash-up of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” has clocked up nearly 250,000 views.
“We need to look at why we are unhappy,” says Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living spiritual movement and, most recently, a free app to track your happiness. Shankar, who lives in Bangalore, India, and is one of the most high-profile spiritual leaders in India, says unhappy people often need direction. “Usually, it’s lack of energy in body and mind,” he says. Our consumer culture doesn’t help. “When people are fed up with their routine, and life seems to have no aim and meaning, then people do get depressed, despite having so many physical comforts,” he says.
One reason for all the unhappiness could be that wages are stagnant and many people are still struggling to recover from the Great Recession. “Money is a little like health, you don’t want to talk about it with your friends because there’s a little bit of shame around it,” says Andrew Meadows, a San Francisco-based producer of “Broken Eggs,” a documentary about retirement, and vice president of brand and culture at Ubiquity Retirement + Savings.
Two recent studies carried out by independent pollsters say that more than 60% of adults have no emergency savings or less than $1,000 in their savings account. And among those who had savings prior to 2008, 57% said they’d used some or all of it in the Great Recession, according to a U.S. Federal Reserve survey of over 4,000 adults released last year. Some people think you need to have tens of thousands of dollars to start saving and investing, so rather than save or invest a little, they do nothing, Meadows says. “They ask if there’s going to be another crash.”
But there’s a lot you can do to turn your frown upside down. Acquiring a more positive outlook does take work, says Jackie Ruka, founder of Get Happy Zone, a professional development organization. “Savor ordinary events, avoid comparisons, keep a gratitude journal, have meaningful goals, exercise and put money low on the list,” she says. “Engage in some social service activity,” Shankar adds. Indeed, Americans are generous when it comes to helping the less fortunate: 65% of Americans volunteered their time in 2013, a survey by Gallup found, up from 59% in 2004.
MarketWatch asked a panel of experts — some financial rather than spiritual gurus — why we’re feeling glum. Here’s what they said:
We are zoning out with gadgets
Computers help us escape from our emotions, studies suggest. Sixth grade children who spent five days at a summer camp without technology had significantly improved emotional cognition — recognizing different emotions on others — than those who spent 4.5 hours a day at home texting, watching TV and gaming, according to a new study of 100 kids by researchers at UCLA and published in the latest edition of the journal Computers in Human Behavior. Understanding emotion is a critical skill, especially for young children, says Yalda Uhls, co-author and senior researcher at the Children’s Digital Media Center at UCLA. “It’s been linked to positive academic and social outcomes,” she says.
50% of people feel stressed
Did your dry cleaner sigh (loudly) when he set eyes on your mound of dirty laundry last night? Did another driver cut you off on your way to work this morning? There could be a reason why: Almost half of Americans said they’d experienced a major stressful event in the last year, according to a recent survey of 2,500 adults by National Public Radio, the non-profit Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health. Young adults were more overwhelmed by responsibilities while older adults cited health problems, but both suffer almost equal amounts of stress. People often respond by sleeping less, eating less and exercising less. “Meditation and breathing exercises can help eliminate stress and renew enthusiasm,” Shankar says.
Lifestyles of the rich and famous
The way movie stars lived 40 years ago — except, perhaps, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in their heyday — pales in comparison with the lifestyles of Internet billionaires today, says Dean Baker, a co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C. “Today’s billionaires have islands and yachts,” he says. Reality TV and celebrity magazines are ubiquitous, he says. People who share about their fabulous vacation on Facebook are not going to help most Americans feel better. And keeping up with the Joneses is tougher now because of sites like Facebook. In the past, people might have been jealous if their neighbor drove up in a new car, but now they see a constant stream of their friends on seemingly fabulous vacations and at fancy cocktail parties rubbing shoulders with celebrities. “People are much less secure in their lives than they were before the crash,” Baker says.
There are no siestas in the U.S.
“Americans are among the hardest working people in the world,” says Mark Hamrick, Washington, D.C. bureau chief with personal finance website Bankrate.com. The U.S. is one of the few countries in the industrialized world that does not require employers to offer paid parental leave. What’s more, Americans only take half of their paid vacation days, recent research by market research firm Harris Interactive and careers website Glassdoor found. The U.S. is one of the few developed countries that doesn’t require employers to provide paid time off. Americans also work 40 hours per week, more than many European countries. In the U.K., for instance, most companies offer workers four to five weeks of paid vacation when they join.
Many Americans are unhealthy
Americans eat most of their meals alone, with families finding it harder to square away time to eat together and a dramatic increase in single-person households. People self-soothe with food when they might be better served having some physical exercise, which could help reduce the obesity epidemic in the country, Hamrick says. The obesity rate increased in five U.S. states over the last year, and is higher in southern states, research published last month found. More than one-quarter of American adults define themselves as obese, according to the Well-Being Index calculated by market research group Gallup and health-care consultancy Healthways. But the real obesity rate is closer to one-third of the population, says Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest, as many people (intentionally or not) underestimate their own body weight. Too much sugar consumption is also one of the most direct causes of Type 2 diabetes, Wootan says.
[by Quentin Fottrell, writing for MARKETWATCH]
As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by
NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis