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Posts Tagged ‘happiness’

The Happiness Boom

When the Founding Fathers signed on to the proposition in the Declaration of Independence that the “pursuit of happiness” was an inalienable right, few if any imagined that it might become the government’s responsibility to help Americans catch that happiness. It still hasn’t. But elsewhere in the world, national leaders are starting to think that a government’s performance should be measured not just in terms of securing “life, liberty, and property” (which was the original phrase before Jefferson’s tinkering — see here), but also happiness.

Natl. Endow. Humanities, 2006

Many in the U.S., too, think that we should be taking up happiness as a national yardstick. In fact, since about 2000 there has been a land rush on among researchers and policymakers to measure, study, describe, and promote happiness. Where did the happiness boom come from? I try to answer that question in my latest Boston Review column, here.

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Cheerful Yanks?

In the 20th century a common stereotype of Americans was that they were a cheerful lot – perhaps too booming cheerful for Europeans who had to endure “have-a-nice-day!” tourists. An interesting article by a scholar of Bulgarian origin identifies a particular period in American history when “good cheer” first became an important value here, displacing an earlier, more dour phase. It appears that, now, in the 21st century, our modern cheeriness is in recession — and unequally so.

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Happiness Happy

An economist I recently lunched with muttered that the flood of research by economists on happiness was making him depressed. Since about 2000, economists have gone on a binge of writing books and articles about how people answer questions such as, “Taken all together, how would you say things are these days—would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?” The news has even reached David Brooks and inspired an mini-screed from The New Republic‘s literary editor about the philistinism of “equation-makers” dealing with “realms of human experience in which their methods have no place.”

What has brought tough-minded economists to the point of studying something so, well, “mushy”? It has to do with the perennial question, Can money make you happy? And there IS an historical connection.

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