Jonathan Rauch, Why Prosperity Has Increased but Happiness Has Not, The New York Times, August 21, 2018
Local and Relative
Ordinary people’s well-being depends mainly on their immediate surroundings. If you are an autoworker who loses your job in Massena, N.Y., when G.M. closes its local plant (moving some jobs to Mexico) and who spends years out of work and who watches as schools shut down and shops go dark and young people flee — for you, the fact that America’s big coastal cities are doing great, or that more than half a billion Chinese have been lifted out of extreme poverty, merely rubs salt in your wounds.
Through the WI lens
Observing that the impressive postwar rise in material wellbeing in the US has had zero effect on personal wellbeing, the author of “The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50” elaborates on two key findings: (1) All happiness is local: people’s wellbeing depends mainly on their immediate surroundings; (2) All happiness is relative: we humans are walking, talking status meters, constantly judging our worth and social standing by comparing ourselves with others today and with our own prior selves. His conclusion: inequality is “immiserating”.
What this article goes on to explain is how positive thinking – described here as ‘thriving’ – can counter the effects that come from the negativity outlined above, from reduced memory to diminished performance. Based on studying people in a series of organisations in different industries, one of the authors has found that people who attain this state are more resilient, experience less burnout, and are more confident in their ability to take control of a situation
“Behind the jargon what this is really about is how we address the challenge of biodiversity under threat, move away from fossil materials like plastic and concrete, and use nature in a sustainable way, all of which could be summed up by “living in harmony with nature”.”
“In the new ‘consensual contract’ between employer and worker, what’s required is a commitment from the employer to safeguard the wellbeing of their people, and a commitment in return from employees to take personal responsibility for their performance of their job.”
“Could loneliness not only be damaging our mental and physical health but also be making the world a more aggressive, angry place? And if so, what are the implications for a cohesive society and democracy?”
“On such fragile foundations are built the first steps towards a more ethical kind of business, and who knows what virtuous circles might result?”
“Scientific evidence recently emerged that, contrary to earlier beliefs, Covid-19 can be spread by tiny droplets that we breathe out when we respire, called aerosols.”
“Economic wellbeing is part of the story, but it is also about finding less stressful lifestyles, in which healthy diet figures as a meaningful measure of success.”
“The industry has every asset needed to be a guiding light in the shift toward personal health priority. Will that become a prevention legacy, a ‘phoenix rising’ from the Covid-19 ashes?”
“Looking at the bigger picture, putting the measures in this order represents a lost opportunity that the pandemic could have offered for a cultural pivot pivot towards getting people more focused on their health, a powerful statement of intent.”
“Employment is necessary to fulfil our most basic human needs such as food and shelter. Any significant increase in long-term unemployment will spell a retrograde step for human wellbeing like no other.”