In a time when happiness is being measured through Facebook and Twitter, it’s inevitable that we will see more and more scientific reports to help us find happiness. This one from the Gallup Organization finds:

“Emotional well-being (measured by questions about emotional experiences yesterday) and life evaluation (measured by Cantril’s Self-Anchoring Scale) have different correlates. Income and education are more closely related to life evaluation, but health, care giving, loneliness, and smoking are relatively stronger predictors of daily emotions. When plotted against log income, life evaluation rises steadily. Emotional well-being also rises with log 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. 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.”

Indian economist Amartya SenThis idea of happiness costing $75,000 reminded me of Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen’s book Development As Freedom. Perhaps in the United States, $75,000 is the amount people need to have the freedom to choose how to live their lives without worrying about their basic needs. Of course, Sen also says that while happiness is an important factor in assessing well-being, it can’t work as a sole measure for very practical reasons. Sen tells David Aaronovitch in an interview for The Sunday Times:

“If you’re asked how happy are you, the answer is exactly informative as to what you would say if somebody asked you how happy you are. It doesn’t tell anyone whether you’re really happy or not. People can get very discontented when they’re very successful. And the sad thing is that people actually do adjust if they’re very deprived. I spent 15 years working on famine and it’s amazing how happy famine victims are when they ultimately get a meal. But that doesn’t mean people are generally more deprived than a famine victim having a first meal.”

The elusive definition of happiness is echoed by Buddhist Matthieu Ricard in our show “The Happiest Man in the World.” In the audio clip above he reiterates the importance of making that difficult distinction between happiness and pleasure. Should, or can, happiness be surveyed?

(photo: Indian economist Amartya Sen by Henny Ray Abrams/AFP/Getty Images)


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