Happiness is not the only thing
Mediaculture: Reflections on the effect of media and culture on our faithby Gordon Houser
We're seeing happiness measurements often in the media. Look, for example, at the list of the happiest countries on Earth in our February issue. A Web site explains the method for arriving at such a list, but it seemed too complicated for me.
In the March 22 issue of The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert looks at new books on happiness. She refers to a 1978 study of a group of lottery winners that showed they were no happier than a group of victims of devastating accidents.
Happiness studies have shown that "it's not just hitting the jackpot that fails to lift spirits,' Kolbert writes. "A whole range of activities that people tend to think will make them happy—getting a raise, moving to California, having kids—do not, it turns out, have that effect."
In his book The Politics of Happiness: What Government Can Learn from the New Research on Well-Being (Princeton), Derek Bok points out that America's increase in per capita income in the past 50 years has not brought more happiness. He then asks, "What is the point of working such long hours and risking environmental disaster in order to keep on doubling and redoubling our Gross Domestic Product?"
He also notes that job loss has been shown to be more upsetting than divorce or separation. Nevertheless, the United States, Bok writes, does "less than virtually any other nation to cushion the shock of unemployment."
Happiness Around the World: The Paradox of Happy Peasants and Miserable Millionaires by Carol Graham (Oxford) studies countries around the world and concludes that "the relationship between money and well-being turns out to be a lot less straightforward than is generally assumed."
Graham notes that the proportion of Nigerians who rate themselves happy is as high as that of Japanese, whose per-capita G.D.P. is almost 25 times as great. And the percentage of Bangladeshis who report themselves satisfied is twice that of Russians, who are four times as rich.
What to do about this is less clear. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen says, "The grumbling rich man may well be less happy than the contented peasant, but he does have a higher standard of living." But she doesn't see the point of trying to convince the "happy peasant" that he ought to be miserable.
These books raise the question of how much governments should take such happiness studies into account in making policy.
Kolbert wonders if this is the best approach. What if, she asks, America's increased consumption in the past 50 years had increased our happiness? "Surely, trashing the planet is just as wrong if people take pleasure in the process as it is if they don't," she writes. "Happiness is a good thing; it’s just not the only thing.'
The Bible’s take on happiness is different. 'Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked" (Psalm 1:1). "Happy are those who make the Lord their trust"(Psalm 40:4). The word only appears once in the New Testament.
In her book Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies (Eerdmans, 2009), Marilyn Chandler McEntyre opposes "the commodified notion of happiness that links it so insistently with getting, spending, having, consuming and receiving the blessings of privilege without much reference to the burdens of payment."
Scripture (along with these happiness studies) call us toward contentment and relationships rather than consumption.
- CURRENT ISSUE: Cookies for Nicholas
- I believe in the Holy Spirit
- Neighbors in Iraq
- From confusion to comprehension
- Helping children live counterculturally
- Navigating in a sea of change
- Message from above
News stories, digests and Meno Acontecer
- NEWS ANALYSIS: Getting serious about being missional
- Arizona immigration bill calls into question location for Convention 2013
- Central Plains hosts hermeneutics seminar
- Group questions Elkhart, Ind., building project
- One youth group generated six pastors
- The Mennonite wins four awards from ACP
- MCC leaders respond to MC USA's concerns
- Johnstown church forgives ex-pastor
- Reframing the immigration debate
- MCC partners in Congo injured in attack
- Dispersed staff helps all of MC USA
- Twilight for campus legal codes?
- Scandinavian Mennonites gather for first time
- ¡Bienvenidos al Meno Acontecer de mayo, 2010!
- Un momento en la Educación Menonita
- SeBAH comienza clases en mayo
- Educación Continuada 2010
- Trabajo conjunto de conferencias en NY
- ¡Nuevo libro!
- Se reúnen damas hispanas menonitas de NY
- CEB gradúa estudiantes en Huatabampo, México
- Servicio Memorial de Joe Rosa
- De nuestros lectores y colaboradores.
- Del doctor Nuñez ... ENFERMEDADES DEL ALMA
- Asamblea Bienal 2010 de la IMH
- First things first Love God and neighbor
- Risk management
- Entering God's time, full-bodied
- May reviews
- Preparing for Pittsburgh
- Happiness is not the only thing
- What is a radical yea-sayer?
- Year-round stewardship for congregations
Births and Marriages
- Nourishment from dissertation
- Article needed balance
- The likelihood of conflict
- The passing of Gene Stoltzfus
- Cannot know timetable
- Warns of military recruiters
- Why publish this article?
- Jesus did not need teaching
- Misses Pontius’ Puddle
- Addresses of puzzlers
- Easter issue