What makes for a better life? This is one of the most serious questions of our time. In fact it is one of the most serious questions of all time. Throughout history mankind has grappled with this question: from Plato questioning “the right way to conduct our lives” to Descartes’ grand proclamation of cogito ergo sum; to the American Constitution with its pursuit of happiness right through to Bobby Kennedy’s assertion that the way we count national success using economic growth “measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
For some people the key to happiness lies in the accumulation of material things. The desire to earn more money, to gain more power, to increase one’s status brings with it the promise of a better life. But if history teaches us anything it is that as our possessions increase, so does our desire for even more.
Does money bring happiness? Academically speaking, the answer to this question has, for a long time, been no. The Easterlin paradox is the theory that economic growth in a country does not result in greater happiness for its citizens beyond a certain level of financial comfort. But the theory is being challenged. Two recent papers – the first by Sacks, Stevenson, & Wolfers, the second by Veenhoven and Vergunst – have argued that the wellbeing of citizens does, in fact, rise with absolute income and there is no cutoff point.
What makes for a better life? – OECD Better Life Index