Brooks' Hidden Secrets of Happiness
By Bryan Caplan
Arthur Brooks, of Gross National Happiness fame, is now guest blogging for Freakonomics. So this seems like the perfect time to disclose his hidden secrets of happiness – the “a-ha” surprises you’ll find on a close reading of his book:
1. You may have already heard about Brooks’ finding that the conservative are happier than the liberal, and the religious happier than the secular. But did you hear that extremists of left and right are both happier than the moderates who lean in their direction? Brooks has a nifty explanation:
Why are ideologues so happy? The most plausible reason is religion – not real religion, but rather, a secular substitute in which they believe with perfect certainty in the correctness of their political dogmas… True political believers are martyrs after a fashion… They are happy because – unlike you, probably, – they are positive they are right.
2. Happiness researchers who study the link between income and happiness often conclude that people are deluded, petty, or full of envy. Brooks has a totally different take: People don’t want to drag down their fellow man; they just want to feel successful. The General Social Survey actually measures the feeling of success; Brooks takes advantage of the data to reach a true “a-ha” moment. Given two people with identical income, education, age, sex, race, religion, politics, and family status…
The one who feels successful is about twice as likely to be very happy about his or her life than the one who does not feel successful. And if they are the same in perceived success but one earns more than other, there will be no happiness difference at all between the two.
Of course, successful people make more money than unsuccessful people, on average. But it is the success – not the money per se – that is giving them the happiness.
3. Some simple regressions inspire this striking “speculation”:
[G]overnment spending, financed with taxation, is an “X-factor” helping to explain why growing national prosperity generally does not raise happiness.
4. Chew on this:
The average happiness level in America has not changed since the early 1970s, but inequality in happiness has actually fallen.
5. Unemployment creates true misery, but retirement doesn’t.
6. Once again, Europe’s not the workers’ paradise people want you to believe:
[J]ob satisfaction is generally much lower in Europe than it is in the United States. A 2002 international survey showed that, while 51 percent of American adults reported being completely satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs, only 36 percent of the Dutch gave this answer, as well as 35 percent of the British, 33 percent of the Spanish, and 32 percent of the French.
7. Finally, from the “people who like markets the least need them the most” department:
[I]f liberals and moderates gave blood like conservatives do, the blood supply of the United States would increase nearly by half.
Brooks’ book isn’t perfect. After I return from my trip to the Continent-falsely-considered-a-workers’-paradise, I’ll post my main criticisms. In the meanwhile, try to find the time to read Brooks’ book. It’s a fun ride.