Are you happy? You may be in good company.
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Americans have twice as many cars per person, and eat out more than twice as often. "The point is, we're more than twice as rich and no happier so that economic growth has been associated with no advancement in human morale," he says.Skip to next paragraph
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That comes as no surprise to Ronald Inglehart. He's researched "subjective well being" in more than 60 countries. In very poor ones, those with average per capita incomes of less than $7,000, he's found a strong and direct correlation between economic development and happiness. The more money those in very poor countries have, the happier they are.
There is a big jump in the contentment quotient between Bangladesh and Spain. But among the Western industrialized nations there's little or no correlation at all between income and happiness.
"The Irish show a higher level of subjective well-being than the West Germans, even though [the Germans] are twice as rich," Mr. Inglehart points out. "And the South Koreans show subjective well being levels as high as the Japanese, even though the Japanese are four times as rich."
In the United States, there is a slight correlation between income and sense of well being, at least above the poverty level.
Bill Gates might be several million times as rich as most Americans but he might at best be 1 percent happier, says Inglehart. That's a reflection in part of the fundamental shift in the way Americans define happiness.
Pam Johnson started the "Secret Society of Happy People" in part as a sort of tongue-in-cheek idea about a year ago. She was tired of people always "raining on her parade." So she designed a Web site and started chatting with people who were also tired of what seems like the constant negativity in American culture.
"We're bombarded by bad news 24 hours a day, seven days a week," says Ms. Johnson, who lives outside Dallas. "Sometimes the bad-news moment doesn't have any more impact on people's lives than the good-news moment."
Johnson says that maybe people are just as happy now as in the past, but they don't talk about it as much, it's not chic. But she also believes that's changing. The Society now has had over 130,000 hits on its Web site since December. She even asked all 50 governors to declare Aug. 8 National Admit You're Happy Day. The responses were mixed.
Don't worry, be happy
But Madison Avenue, that great barometer of the American frame of mind, has already starting tapping the country's upbeat mood.
"There's a lot of feel-good advertising out there - the Gap ads, the Taco Bell dog, the Apple MacIntosh - that's working well for those brands," says Carol Costello of TBWA/Chiat/Day Advertising in New York. "Americans are in a good mood, and I think the happiness trend will continue."
But bus driver Mashburn doesn't see it as only a trend. It's a state of mind. "It's something that you decide," he says. "If you want to be happy, you can. It's how you look at the world, and what you do in it."
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society