Thursday, September 22, 2005

Are You Happy?

Scientists have reached the conclusion that money DOES buy happiness. Johan Norberg reports: "In fact, one of the few things there is a consensus about in this very young field of science is that money does buy happiness. There is an extremely strong correlation between wealth and happiness. Low-income countries report low levels of happiness, middle-income countries report middle levels and high-income countries report high levels. What the researchers say, though, is that this correlation levels off at a national income of about $10,000 a year. After $20,000, Layard says, "additional income is not associated with extra happiness" (p. 33). ...This is the most highlighted finding from the research. But in fact, it is yet to be proven. The fact that a higher income level does not translate into higher happiness does not mean that growth doesn't. What we do know is that there is a big jump in reported wellbeing when countries move from about $5,000 to $15,000 a year."

Beyond this, happiness is not easy to define, measure, prove. But that doesn't stop the determined scientists. Happiness, or contentment, increases when hope is present. Hope that tomorrow will be even better or at least as good nurtures our happiness. In poor countries, people are hopeful as growth increases--economic and personal wealth. Norberg points to Ireland as a good example. He says, "look at Ireland. This country reported declining levels of life satisfaction between the early 1970s and the late 1980s. Ireland did not grow poorer during this time, but it had low growth and high unemployment. A lack of opportunities for the young led to high emigration. In the 1990s things turned around. Rapid liberalisation, foreign investment and information technology doubled Irish GDP per capita in ten years. It became easy to start a business and to get a job. Unemployment fell from about 15 to 5% and emigrants returned. At the same time, reported levels of happiness grew rapidly, by about one point on a ten-point scale "a dramatic change for such a slow moving indicator. Today, Ireland is one of the world's happiest countries."

I would be happy if I lived in Ireland, so I completely understand Norberg's example. At this point, though, one wonders "what makes me happy?" What is happiness? Theologically, we know that we are made for happiness. Human beings search for happiness and find it in a realtionship with God. The scientists did not mention this cause for happiness. Augustine, we all know, said, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O, Lord." Restless hearts are not happy hearts. Being united with the creative force of life calms the restless heart and soothes the soul. Sweet happiness.

Consider the things that make you happy? Naturally happy, no Irish mugs necessary! When are you content with yourself and with the world; hopeful for things to come, today and tomorrow?

I have, from time to time, been suddenly touched by a distinctive feeling of contentment, happy to be just where I am at that moment. Sometimes, I am alone and sometimes in the company of others. These moments are sharply contrasted with agitated moments during the day when I am restlessly disturbed by all manner of things: rude people, late people--really late people, obnoxiously loud noises, not being able to say NO when asked to something that I know will not make me happy, finishing a task that I've been asked to do only to find out that it was unnessicary, which translates as wasting my time, and many other things.

On the other hand, looking at water of almost any kind fills me with content. Eating olives makes me happy, without a doubt. Modern art at SLAM draws me in and silences the restless voice within me. Feeding animals connects me with the creative life force. Holding a sleeping baby, breathing in the soft, baby smells, erases all the restlessness from my heart in any given day. Certain strains of music have a calming effect. So does butter, come to thnk of it. Is this happiness? Would scientists agree and how would they actually measure the effect of things that soothe and give me hope?

Science cannot measure how we feel. Art describes in various ways (visually and audibly and written ways) what happiness feels like. It knows, and we know, how happiness feels. The Irish know what happiness is and how to find it. Evidently, at least according to Norberg, et al, the Japanese do not. At least that's what the scientists want us to believe.

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