Money Changes Everything

According to Sophie Tucker, ... I've been rich and I've been poor. Believe me, honey, rich is better ...Depending on when you’re reading this column, economists have a pretty good guess as to what kind of mood you’re in. If it’s Sunday, you’re almost certainly happier than if you’re catching it on a Monday. Either way, there’s a good chance you’re in lousy mood if it’s 7 a.m. (Sorry!) You’ll be happier around lunchtime, sadder at 2 p.m. but should perk up by 8 in the evening. And economists will definitely have a theory about happiness based on where you live. In collaboration with psychologists, a number of respected economists have spent much of the past decade or so mapping our levels of happiness across borders and daytime hours. Angus Deaton, economist at Princeton University, is helping shape the movement to incorporate subjective measures of emotions into serious economic analysis. Goal is to use this new data to inform more traditional measures, like G.D.P. or unemployment rate, and to influence government policy. Or at least that’s the idea. Happiness quantification sounds a bit wishy-washy, sure, and through series of carefully administered surveys across globe, economists and psychologists have certainly confronted a fair number of sticky issues around how to measure, and even define, happiness. Still, some of data make lots of anecdotal sense. Given Nevada was ground zero for housing bust, it’s not surprising that its citizens are less happy than Coloradans. Other findings, though, are more opaque. Why does western Long Island score several points higher on the happiness scale than most of Brooklyn? (Does being richer make you feel better than being cooler?) Why do Filipinos, who live in a relatively poor country, report such positive emotions? Though still unrefined, happiness quantification has come quite a very long way since 1974, when a University of Southern California economist named Richard Easterlin published an important paper that put the field on the map. His conclusion, known as the Easterlin paradox, stated people do not become happier as they get richer. Around same time, Kingdom of Bhutan (population 738,000; average income, around $5,800) also began plans to measure what it called gross national happiness. These ideas might have had an impact, but nobody paid attention. “General reaction of economists,” Easterlin told me, “was: ‘This is just subjective testimony nobody puts any credit in.’ ” The Happiness studies became a hot discipline in the early 2000s, and France, Britain and other governments now conduct surveys of their own national levels of emotional well-being. It can be fairly instructive. Deaton, who advised French government on its report, said, “The French are pretty miserable.” United Kingdom’s Office of National Statistics reports only a slight happiness dip despite a deep recession. On other hand, Bhutan’s happiness survey is so complex that I have no idea what Bhutanese are feeling. Nonetheless, United Nations committee has called upon world’s governments to adopt happiness measures. A United States government panel is exploring the issue here (…..)


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9 Responses to Money Changes Everything

  1. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: Money and happiness is a tough conundrum. One thing for sure. The (superficial) notion that people from affluent countries are depressed-unhappy while folks in poor countries are happy, dancing in the streets is pure nonsense. If Bhutan is the happiest country in the world, why happiness-seeking -people are not moving massively into this paradise on earth? The US, Brazil and Argentina are three good cases to look at. Americans –regardless of race or social background — are the most optimistic and happy people I’ve ever met. Always smiling with their beautiful teeth, confident about themselves and the future. Americans are naturally happy/optimistic and think their country is superior to the rest of the world. Brazilians are poor but happy and very optimistic about the future of their country. This is true particularly in the last few years when income distribution has improved and a nascent large middle class is emerging. Brazilians are happy and optimistic people. Argentinians, however, are for the most part pessimistic about life and the future of their country. After living 14 years in Buenos Aires, I came to understand the reasons for such pessimistic views. The current Pres Cristina Kirchner makes sure that Argentinians cannot be happy and optimistic about the future. Perhaps the relevant question is whether money makes life better or worse for any individual, regardless of country of origin. Happiness like love should not be entangled with money.

  2. carrobin: I remember when most Americans were indeed happy and optimistic. Not so much nowadays.

  3. Bluerain: I think that you’ve named people who once had an expanded economy, and when they lost that, they become pessimists. Americans are quickly becoming pessimists as they are not sharing in the prosperity of the 1%. Argentinians had their economic boom/bust 14 years ago, and have been pessimists since then. Watch the Brazilians change their tune when things go south (or north, as the case may be with you ;))

  4. heybrooksie: I suggest there is also a timeliness to the perception that explains some of the of the lack of consistent happiness measures – why all wealthy countries are not always more happy that apparently poor countries for example. Regardless of my present situation of being wealthy or poor, if I think my future is bright I will be happy . If I think my future is not bright, I will be less happy. In the US, we may be 3 times more wealthy now than in 1973 but people are concerned about the future (whichever side you are on) and therefore don’t feel happier.

  5. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: After 30 years overseas, I’m retired from a Washington based international organization and living in the sunny island of Florianopolis, Brazil. My friends always ask whether I am happy living in this Southern provincial capital. My answer — typical of a US trained economist — is to use the American Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) developed by the University of Michigan as a proxy to answer the question. In my case, the CSI from zero to ten is around 7, which means relatively satisfied. If I am satisfied, I am happy.

  6. douglas kinan: Was Bernie Madoff and his family happy during all of those years that they were being eaten from the inside out? Are they happier now? You can only eat one steak at a time.

  7. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: Perhaps, Sophie Tucker’s famous quotation answers your question ” I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Believe me, honey. Rich is better.”

  8. W. paints! Who would have thought it? Thanks to a hacker known as Guccifer who wormed into the computer of the 43rd president’s sister, the world has learned that George W. Bush is an amateur – I would say serious amateur – painter. He may be some people’s least favorite president since Hoover, but as an artist he is, well, a heck of a lot better than any number of world leaders whose names spring to mind, foremost Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler. Images of only three paintings made it to the Internet — where they promptly went viral — before the Secret Service started to investigate. Two are oblique self-portraits, both vertical rectangles that show Mr. Bush bathing. Needless to say, they raise all sorts of interesting questions about what’s on the former president’s mind these days, and what, if any, art he has been looking at (…..)

  9. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: Irony of history. Pres W. Bush and Adolf Hitler having things in common. Both led their countries to disastrous wars and shared a taste for painting. Hitler, of course, was a towering charismatic political figure and Bush a Texan politician.


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