The Science of Happiness

The Science of Happiness

BY KENN L. CHUA, Junior Researcher

The science of happiness

ONE OF THE IRONIES in the Arroyo administration is the record public dissatisfaction with the government despite the relative strength of the economy.

In most places, a sound economy is enough to make most people happy. In a world obsessed with material wealth, why can_ã_t a robust economy buy happiness here?

Traditional economic thinking points out that as the person_ã_s income rises, his level of happines or _ã–utility_㝠also increases. That is because additional income allows him to buy greater quantity or perhaps a wider variety of goods. In economics, conventional (utility) theory poses that a greater amount of wealth always takes a person to a higher level of utility.

Policymakers in governments are thus faced with the tall order to quickly improve their countries_ã_ measure of income, usually the gross domestic product (GDP) or the gross national product (GNP). Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz called it _ã–GDP fetishism_ã. No surprise about this, after all, economists have agreed that economic growth, though not sufficient, as a condition for development.

On the other hand, some studies point to just the opposite of theory. That is, the general satisfaction of the people need not always rise with income. In quality-of-life surveys conducted in the United States since the 1950_ã_s, results have shown that the proportion of people saying that they were happy had remained flat despite the dramatic rise in people_ã_s incomes through the decades (Easterlin, 1995). Even in the Philippines, the 7.2% growth posted in 2007 was met with skepticism, with the public claiming that they did not feel its benefits.

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