Happiness comes in many forms unique to the individual. The economic status of the individual may not be the best barometer to ascertain well being. Americans have traditionally linked socioeconomic status to happiness. It is almost an automatic assumption in our society that wealth increases our ability to obtain satisfaction therefore reaching monetary contentment will allow happiness to follow suit. Research shows the notion that our socioeconomic status determines our happiness in life is somewhat misguided.
Dr. Richard Layard in reference to his book, “Happiness” indicates that there was a long time in economics where people did not think happiness was a topic of conversation. Until recently you could not compare interpersonal measures of happiness and by and large did not need to. (Layard, Brookshire Institute, 4). In most cases there was an assumption that people were happy because of the choices they had in life. The more choices available, the greater the opportunity for increased happiness.
This narrow view of happiness was one of the primary catalysts resulting in the research of Dr. Layard and other noted social economists as their findings show conclusively that needs of individuals and factors determining their contentment run much deeper than simply a wide array of choices. Traditional economists simply avoided the issue of happiness as there must have been some degree of contentment with their theory. Psychologists remained concerned with anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses. (C. Wallis, Time 1).
It was not until 1998 that that University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman shared his new vision when he said, I realized that my profession was half-baked. It was not enough for us to nullify disabling conditions and get to zero. We needed to ask, what are the enabling conditions that make human beings flourish? How do we get from zero to plus five? (C Wallis, Time 1). The idea that more than one discipline was beginning to question their method of thought about happiness has led to numerous studies on the matter.
There is an abundance of information 2 reflecting this ‘new’ science available. Although there is still evidence that a greater number of choices can still elevate one’s contentment to some degree we still must agree on the fact that human beings place different values on social attainment and happiness. What really contributes to one’s contentment, well being and overall happiness? Studies show that 90% of Americans actually consider themselves happy or fairly happy. (Gregg, 4). Dr.
Layard states that in 1980 happiness was not growing and had not been since the 1950s. (Layard, Brookshire, 6). He also finds happiness growth at a standstill all the way up until 2000. Why would there be huge increases in the GDP of literally all wealthy nations creating by default more choices, more purchasing power and yet the happiness meter during this time is stagnated? Dr. Layard breaks down the ways in which people interact and exahange with one another as being voluntary or involuntary.