The real secrets to happiness
Over the last 20 years, China’s economy has boomed. But has economic triumph made its people happier? According to American economist Richard Easterlin’s “Easterlin Paradox,” economic growth and happiness are not directly proportional. Professor Easterlin surveyed the life satisfaction indices of Chinese during six occasions between 1990 and 2010. The gross domestic product of China grew by four times in that period, but levels of happiness did not grow as much. In 1990, 65 percent of low-income respondents said they were satisfied with their lives, but in 2010, only 42 percent found their lives satisfying. In the high-income group, the percentage of respondents who were satisfied with their lives grew by a mere 3 percent, from 68 percent in 1990 to 71 percent in 2010.
Levels of happiness within the low-income group fell drastically because China’s growth has lead to a wide income gap. The relative sense of deprivation from the growing gap between the rich and the poor lowered levels of happiness. Data always shows Northern European countries ranking near the top of happiness indices. These states impose high taxes in order to distribute wealth as fairly as possible.
However, the gap between the rich and the poor is only one of the many elements that affect happiness. Last year, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development began a comprehensive project to evaluate the happiness of the 34 member countries. Korea performed very poorly, coming in 26th place. The dishonor of having the highest suicide rate among the OECD member countries symbolically illustrates the reality of Korea’s happiness.
Daniel Gilbert, psychology professor at Harvard University, claims that the idea that money can’t buy happiness is no longer valid. Instead, money can buy happiness, but it doesn’t matter if you make more than $60,000 a year. The idea is evolving constantly, and now, “money can buy happiness if you know what you want.” Even if you have money, you won’t be happy if you cannot use it properly. He advises that if you want to become happy, spend money on experiences, not goods.
People have different standards of happiness. But there are a few solid rules. Happiness levels go up when you get rid of greed. Set meaningful goals, carry them out one by one. Maintain a positive attitude, appreciate the little things in life, manage stress, take care of your physical and mental health and get along with others.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo
By Bae Myung-bok