Measuring happiness

To the Point

Is money the key to happiness or the root of all evil? If growth and prosperity don't provide a sense of wellbeing, what will? With a fiscal crisis already under way, "To the Point" takes a new look at the way happiness is measured and how it's achieved in the US and other parts of the world.

In a put-down of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemmingway once wrote, "The very rich are different from you and me ... they have more money." But ever since Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations in 1776, western economies have been based on growth and prosperity as the keys to happiness. With the US heading into a major recession, it's worth asking if that’s really true. One study says Puerto Ricans are happier than Germans or Japanese? How come? Is a simpler, more frugal life more satisfying after all?

Ed Diener, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and co-author of "Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth," explains why economics clings to the idea that wealth and prosperity are the keys to happiness:

"Early on, in the time of Adam Smith, economic prosperity really meant getting enough food and having enough shelter ... so it really had to do a lot with really the basic necessities. Then what we see as countries get wealthier and wealthier, and reach the level of the U.S. is that it more and more means luxuries. You see a declining margin of utility of money ... which means that those dollars above $50,000 a year ... might increase happiness a little bit, but not that much."

Professor Diener says measuring well-being of nations is also important, and around the world, when measuring well-being: "We find that northern European countries are ... happiest. And another interesting trend though is that Latin American countries show a lot of positive emotions. And when you control for income, because they're not the richest countries, the Latin countries really stand out as being very high in positive emotions.

"What we also know is that, when people step back and evaluate their lives and say, 'gee where am I on that ladder,' income does come in pretty strongly; but when you say, 'how much are you enjoying yourself' ... then social relationships come in very strong -- trusting other people, lack of corruption in your society and so forth ..."

Some surprising findings: Nigeria, where income is close to zero, is very high on the happiness scale; and Germany and Japan, which are high on the income scale, are not very high on the happiness scale.

Other guests:
- Daniel Kahneman: Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Princeton University
- Vicky Robin: Co-author, "Your Money of Your Life"

Hosted by award-winning journalist Warren Olney, "To the Point" presents informative and thought-provoking discussion of major news stories — front-page issues that attract a savvy and serious news audience.

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