Despite our cars, houses and comforts, Americans are an unhappy lot: the numbers on subjective well-being have run flat since the 1970s. The worst part is, the things we think will make us happy often don't, such as raising children or even winning the lottery. "Studies have shown that women find caring for their children less pleasurable than napping or jogging and only slightly more satisfying than doing the dishes," writes Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker in her review of Derek Bok's new book, “The Politics of Happiness: What Government Can Learn from the New Research on Well-Being”. “People do not always know what will give them lasting satisfaction,” Bok argues.
So what can Uncle Sam do to make us feel good? Bok suggests we stop worrying about financial inequality, for starters. “It is not clear... why growing inequality should elicit such compassion if lower-income Americans themselves have not become less happy,” he writes. Instead, he prescribes a raft of policies that deal with more prosaic anxieties: softer economic and psychological cushions for job loss, improved treatment for chronic pain, depression and sleep disorders (insidious, all), more sports programmes for children and better civic education (people are happier when they vote).
Sounds good, but should more little league baseball teams pre-empt our striving for better income distribution? Just because money doesn't buy happiness doesn't mean it's okay for the lucre to be monopolised by the few, right? I suppose I'm just another one of those dissatisfied Americans who want it all: to eat my cake and to share it too.
Picture credit: davitydave (via Flickr)