|The money-and-happiness correlation
The Pew researchers intentionally left it to the 3,014 respondents to define what happiness means for them.
"That's going to mean different things to different people, but if you take a big enough sample, you'll at least get some broad gauge of people's self-assessment," he says.
The happiness paradox
Bruce Weinstein, "The
Ethics Guy" and author of "Life
Principles: Feeling Good by Doing Good," says those who
confuse the accumulation of quantifiable things like money, power
or fame with happiness are doomed to miss the love train.
"Aristotle says that happiness is the only thing
that is coveted for its own sake rather than for the sake of something
else. It's the ultimate end, the ultimate good. Money is only of
instrumental value, only good for what it gets us. So what we find
is that people who value money never have enough. If you ask anyone
whose primary purpose in life is to acquire wealth if they have
enough now, they will say no, I don't. The same with power or fame
-- it's never enough.
"Beyond a certain point, more money does not
equate with more happiness. If it did, you would expect to find
the wealthiest or most famous people to be the happiest, and that
simply is not the case. Once our basic needs are met, it turns out
that it's friendship and being loved and having someone to love
that makes life worth living," he says.
Want to find true happiness? Weinstein has a suggestion:
"I think the solution to happiness lies in the
little things. When you're on the bus, instead of whipping out the
BlackBerry, maybe actually strike up a conversation with the stranger
next to you. Or do nothing; stare out the window or be quiet. I
suspect that either or both of those things, practiced regularly,
would bring a bigger sense of well-being."
Gilbert maintains that the whole concept of somehow accumulating happiness is both foolhardy and even a little scary.
"It's important to recognize that you're not
meant to be happy all the time," he says. "That's not
what your brain is generating emotions for. Emotions are a very
primitive guidance system. It's your brain's way of telling you
when you're doing the right thing or the wrong thing. That's why
you get a positive emotional reaction when you approach a naked
woman but not a bear. Imagine that you somehow found a medication
or a surgery or a deodorant or whatever that made you permanently
happy all the time. Well, now you're smiling when you approach the
bear, and that's a problem.
"At least, luckily, we could say you won't have
children to pass this problem along to.
"Your emotional system is guiding you through life, so it has to respond positively and negatively. A compass that's stuck on north all the time is useless, and that's what a person who is stuck on happy would be."
Jay MacDonald is a contributing editor based in Austin, Texas.