Having returned from a hectic UEG Summer School in Prague, Bjorn has some reflections on Happiness
Professor Richard Easterlin found that more money does not make us more happy – the “Easterlin Paradox”. This is because of “habituation” whereby the immediate thrill of buying something extravagant wears off.
In fact, in spite of rising disposable incomes, people are less happy than they were 50 years ago. Professor Robert Putnam blames the American unhappiness on television. This is because the TV makes us less likely to go out and socialise and feel part of a community. He also found, after studying some 30 000 Americans, that as communities became more diverse, people became less trusting of each other.
Can Social Networks overcome our TV-induced isolation? Well, Facebook may be better than TV (as a degree of communication is possible) but “competitive pressures” also increase. The “look what a fantastic life I have – effect” reduces happiness in others.
Having spent a few fun days at the UEG Summer School in Prague, it’s clear to me that Putnam was right. Nothing can beat meeting people face-to-face for building bridges across countries and continents. As a total of 150 trainees and 20 specialists from 33 different countries mixed in the morning lecture theatre, afternoon workshops and over dinner an in nightclubs, a strong camaraderie developed.
The last century has given us cars, telecommunication and globalisation. These are firmly anchored in an economical “growth strategy” in which countries compete to continuously increase Productivity and GDP. This is associated with depleting resources, global warming and a reduction in overall happiness. In contrast to having more stuff, I predict that in the next 100 years, people will want and expect improved health and longevity. In Prague I was privileged to meet some of the people who will deliver it.