Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Happiness, Shmappiness

Time and time again we are told that wealth doesn’t make us happier, and that is usually justification for some statist regulation or another.  My response is always the same – “So What?”

Why would you want to peg policy or societal success on something as fleeting as happiness?  Nothing that makes us happy makes us happy for long.  My best friend visited me last week from Cincinnati – that made me happy.  He didn’t stay for long, but I can assure you that if he had it would have quickly made me unhappy.

Happiness can only occur when our lot improves, but once it has improved then that becomes the norm – our new baseline for what happiness should be.  I will be the first to admit that I am probably not much happier now than I was 15 years ago even though my net worth has increased by a factor of 10.  I can also tell you that if you forced me to live like I did 15 years ago I would be very unhappy.

So does that mean that nothing I have accomplished over the last 15 years has been for naught?  Ludicrous.  Along the way I have achieved little bits of happiness here and there.  The happiness comes from success, but with each success the baseline changes.  Even though I was not unhappy 15 years ago and I am not happier today in absolute terms, if I had remained at the status quo I would never have experienced happiness beyond my friends and family.  And if nothing else in my life had changed, how happy would that have been?  I can imagine not very.

Absolute changes in quality of life – life expectancy, leisure time, etc – are far better measures of society and wealth than some relative measurement of happiness.  I think that if liberals really wanted to look into the issue – as opposed to just using it as justification to be anti-wealth – they would find that government interventions do more to make us unhappy than money fails to make us happy.

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