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Money vs. Happiness, Research Paper Example

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Words: 1976

Research Paper

In her article, Foroohar states that money, family, and social status do not make people happy. Indeed, it is hard to explain individuals who are from the Western part of the world why millions of Indians living on the street, not knowing what they would eat the next day, have a great smile on their face. According to Western perceptions of happiness, they should not be smiling. Meanwhile, governments and researchers are trying to identify the sources and main influencers of happiness. Foroohar states that happiness economics has not created any significant results in making people happier. The problem that the author addresses is that happiness is so complex, dependent on individual values, social norms, the environment, that it is almost impossible to create an algorithm for improving it. Reviewing different countries’ policies to make residents more content and happy, Froohar states that none of the leaders or researchers managed to “crack the code”. The below review of related research and literature will attempt to reveal the relationship between personal circumstances, financial, social, family status, society, and happiness.

Reflection

While the complex review of happiness research related to economic status, policies, employment, and family life has created an overall image of study focus, it has indeed failed to deliver an answer to the question: what makes people happy? Reviewing several policies from diverse countries, the author has claimed that money does not make people happier, Indeed, she has answered the question: what does not make the world population happy, providing answers like: money, children, welfare state, entertainment, choices,  but she failed to identify things that do contribute towards happiness. While Froohar claims that happiness research is unable to answer the question, either, the author of the current study would disagree with that statement. Several authors have created comprehensive studies and comparative research that clearly identify general sources of happiness. The World Happiness Report (Helliwell, Layard and Sachs) includes several details about the aspects of human happiness, which should not be neglected when searching for the answer to the question: what makes people happy?

While the author of the current study agrees with Froohar that happiness is a complex issue and there are several aspects of happiness that need to be discovered, it is not true that these contributing factors to happiness cannot be measured. They can be, and have been measured in the past, providing policymakers and politicians with crucial data about people’s perceptions about well-being, contentedness, and happiness. Quoting Dolan, Froohar argues that “one of the big troubles for policymakers is that there are a lot of variables in measuring happiness”. While the above statement is true, it is evident that making policies that create the ideal combination of “happiness factors” would eventually result in a happier society. Claiming that there is no real chance for influencing people’s level of happiness, based on the assumption that the problem is “complicated” is not an option. Through the below analysis of happiness research, the author of the current study will attempt to prove that there is indeed a way of increasing the happiness level of society, and measuring factors of well-being and contentedness in every country.

Opposing views on happiness

The authors of the World Happiness Report (Helliwell, Layard and Sachs) state that happiness can be evaluated and measured. First of all, they state that subjective well-being needs to be measured and compared with different variable factors of individual lives or social conditions. The measurements, obviously, need to be adjusted to one’s culture, preferences, and personalities. Still, average figures provide researchers with reliable data about the happiness level of countries. The 2012 report states that the average happiness level was the highest among people living in Denmark, Finland, and Switzerland, among European countries. The United Kingdom, one of the oldest industrialized countries of the world, however, was not in the top ten. This confirms Froohar’s statement that happiness is not plainly determined by wealth and welfare. With Britain having a much more supportive welfare, health care, and social support system than the rest of Europe, if money was the sole determinant, it would have got a much higher ranking. Similarly, if lifestyle and climate were the only determinants of happiness, Cyprus with more than 300 sunny days would have been on the top of the list. Therefore, it is true that the factors contributing towards one’s happiness are complex, and here the author agrees with Froohar. However, these determinants can be, and should be measured in order to improve people’s lives.

Aaker (9) talks about happiness as a national policy. The author also quotes British examples, and recalls that former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown consulted with Labor party member and scholar Layard to advance happiness and well-being in the United Kingdom. The economic aspect of happiness has been studied, but it is proven that GDP of the country is not the only determinant of residents’ level of happiness. That is why the government of Bhutan is “dedicated to increasing GDH—Gross Domestic Happiness”(Aaker,9), instead of only focusing on GDP. This view goes side by side with Kennedy’s statement in 1968, quoted by Aaker (9), that GDP measures everything,  “except that which makes life worthwhile”. Happiness, according to the author is a status when the below conditions are best met: work/career/school, home/family. Community/society, and self (mind/body/spirit). This leaves us with the consequence that all programs that focus on developing one of the above overlapping areas of people’s lives on the national level will increase the population’s level of happiness. The claim that it is impossible to determine what makes people happier, therefore, is proven to be false.

Mollinger, Kamvar and Aaker (1) however, state that “there is a dynamic and predictable shift in the meaning of happiness and how it is experienced over one’s life course”. This means that demographics will influence a nation’s level of happiness.

The psychology of happiness, economic research, and self-reports will help future researchers determine what makes societies as a whole happier and more content. The measurable aspects of happiness will be reviewed below in order to prove that – unlike Froohar states – happiness can be influenced by economic, social, and other conditions.

Measurable aspects of happiness

Aaker (6) asks the question: “can we be happier”? Indeed, on the individual level, every person has a baseline of happiness. If we do look at societies’ average, it will be influenced by the country’s culture, social rules, as well as economic status. Indeed, Haidt (quoted by Aaker, 6) states that “Lottery winners and paraplegics have both, on average, returned most of the way to their baseline levels of happiness”. People have a basic outlook in life, and this changes based on the economic, social environment and conditions. Therefore, if we fully understand how these baselines are formed and how to calculate them as country averages, it is possible to modify happiness outcomes.

Mollinger, Kamvar and Aaker list the top feelings associated with the state of happiness. The list is suitable for creating surveys and researching people’s perception about their own lives, their contentedness and satisfaction with their environment. The three top feelings identified by the authors are contentedness, feeling excited, and gladness.

The World Happiness report (Helliwell, Layard and Sachs, 60) determines happiness as a result of personal and external features. The graph below shows how these factors influence one’s sense of contentedness and joy.

Genes and environment, external and personal features do influence one’s feeling of happiness or misery on the individual level. However, when we are looking to determine the average level of happiness or misery, it is important to take national averages into consideration. External factors are the ones that governments can have an influence on in order to change the happiness level of the nation. They would normally not have a great influence on the environment (at least not in short term), and certainly cannot influence individuals’ personal features. These external features that the report has studied will be reviewed below in order to prove that they can easily be modified and influenced, and that they have a direct impact on nations’ level of happiness.

External factors determining individual happiness, according to Helliwell, Layard and Sachs, are “income, work, community, governance, values and religion”. (59).

The authors also state that there is evidence for the above influencers’ impact on the happiness of the population. While richer people are on the average happier than poorer ones, after a certain level of wealth, happiness does not increase adequately. On the country level, social support provided by the state, freedom, level of corruption, health and education opportunities all influence the sensation of happiness. Family life, on the other hand, on the individual and society level influence people’s outlook in life.

Unemployment, the quality of work, self-employment, retirement with stable financial background also have a direct impact on people’s sense of contentedness; one of the feelings associated with happiness. Therefore, policies that aim for low unemployment rates, fair wages, financial stability and a reliable pension system will be able to increase the population’s overall well-being and happiness.

There are other aspects of happiness, as well, on which governments have an indirect influence, and that is what the authors (Helliwell, Layard and Sachs, 71) call social capital. This aspect consists of trust between citizens and trust of the country’s leadership. Bonding capital has an impact on one’s sense of belonging and connectedness. Social equality and freedom within the society also influence people’s outlook in life. Religion and values, ethics of the leadership and spiritual organizations can also have an impact on people’s self-concept.

The World Health Report (Helliwell, Layard and Sachs) also contains comparison studies that reveal trends within societies, such as: unemployed people are likely to be more miserable, while a high level of corruption in the society does reduce happiness levels. Claiming that these trends cannot be measured is wrong. Indeed, the statistical data that is published in the World Heath Report is suitable for developing state-level policies to increase citizens’ overall well-being and satisfaction with their lives. Further, the authors provide a complete framework and blueprint of making societies happier by comparing the impact of different influences of happiness in the table below. (Helliwell, Layard and Sachs, 89)

Chapter 4 of the report, even details the policy implications of the above measurements. The authors recommend that instead of focusing on GDP, policymakers should increase it only to the point when it does not endanger community cohesion, ethical standards, environment, and economic stability. As the report states, (Helliwell, Layard and Sachs, 91) “GDP is important but not all that is important”. They determine employment as one of the main determinant factors of society’s happiness. The three step process described by the authors for forming a policy consists of the following actions:

  • the measurement of happiness in the overall population
  • understanding how people in the society determine happiness
  • creating a new policy that will reduce misery and increase happiness

Conclusion

The above review of happiness research and measurements has revealed that indeed there is a recipe for making people happier. Even though there are different overlapping variables that determine levels of happiness on the individual and society level, influencing one of them positively will result in an overall higher measurement of happiness. By creating policies that aim to improve work environment, increase employment, while preserving traditional and family values, promoting ethical approaches to governance and social justice, societies can be made happier. Researchers and policymakers should not be shying away from creating intervention frameworks just because happiness is a complex issue. They should work alongside with researchers, instead, to develop policies that create the best environment for a happy nation.

Works Cited

Aaker, J. “The Psychology of Happiness” Stanford University Publication. 2010. Web.

Froohar, R. “Money vs. Happiness: Nations Rethink Priorities” Newsweek. 2007. Web.

Haidt, Jonathan  “The Happiness Hypothesis” (Oxford: Heinemann), 2006. Print.

Helliwell, J., Layard, R., and Sachs, J. (eds.) “World Happiness Report” 2012. Web.

Mogilner, C., Kamvar, S., and Aaker, J. “The Shifting Meaning of Happiness” Social Psychological and Personality Science. 2011. Print.

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