Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Happy now? Or just satisfied?...

As some of you know, I have been following the emerging behavioral research on happiness. One of the early findings was after a minimal life needs were met happiness did not seem to increase much with wealth (the infamous happiness curve).

But measuring satisfaction turns out to yield a different result. What's the difference?

Good question.
To compound the irony, recent findings from the Gallup World Poll raise doubts about the puzzle itself. The most dramatic result is that when the entire range of human living standards is considered, the effects of income on a measure of life satisfaction (the "ladder of life") are not small at all. We had thought income effects are small because we were looking within countries. The GDP differences between countries are enormous, and highly predictive of differences in life satisfaction. In a sample of over 130,000 people from 126 countries, the correlation between the life satisfaction of individuals and the GDP of the country in which they live was over .40 – an exceptionally high value in social science. Humans everywhere, from Norway to Sierra Leone, apparently evaluate their life by a common standard of material prosperity, which changes as GDP increases. The implied conclusion, that citizens of different countries do not adapt to their level of prosperity, flies against everything we thought we knew ten years ago. We have been wrong and now we know it. I suppose this means that there is a science of well-being, even if we are not doing it very well. [More]

Can people be happy and unsatisfied? Apparently so, at least from data we have now.

The implications for us in agriculture are significant for once. Many of us will achieve goals and minimize some [financial] worries during this boom, but may not find our life as satisfying because I think keeping up with the rest of our profession will continue to require immense concentration and effort. Since we seem to measure satisfaction by relative success - "at least I'm doing better than Bob" - we may simply be acquiring more and better tools to compete with.

My intuitive prediction is producers will struggle to find something to whine about, but face growing worries about how much they now have to lose in an ethanol-fired competition. I am bracing for explosive competition, and hope I am wrong.

[BTW, the above article is part of a series from great minds of our times who were asked what issues they had changed their minds on recently. One of the problems I have with the Christianist element of politics is the absolutism of their positions. The articles were refreshing evidence of leadership that understands knowledge is not static nor the exclusive province of any person or faction.]

No comments: