Still waiting for an era of happiness

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Still waiting for an era of happiness


My family went on vacation last week. It was our first trip as a family in 10 years because we had devoted ourselves to getting our kids into college. We were so happy.

It sounds strange but I had always thought that happiness wasn’t a real thing that actually applied to me. We all know happiness exists, but no one knows what it really is, how to find it or how to enjoy it. We don’t know who is happy. Happiness is a strictly subjective phenomenon.

While we were away, I couldn’t be sure if my wife, daughter and son were happy. I wanted to ask but decided not to. If they said “yes,” everything would have been great. But I didn’t want to deal with the disappointment of a “no.”

Can money be translated into happiness? Happiness can be measured in money to a certain extent. An Australian team surveyed the correlation between life-changing events and happiness. Coming into an unexpected $20,000 dollars apparently boosts your happiness as much as getting married. If you lose $180,000 dollars, the level of misery is said to be similar to that of losing a child.

According to the research of economist Richard Easterlin, the happiness index went up in 45 of 52 countries whose income increased over 25 years since the 1950s. During the period, income levels exploded in Korea, which is among the top 5 nations with the most dramatic jump in happiness.

But as income goes up, the effect on happiness becomes smaller. In the United States, where per-capita income is $40,000, life satisfaction actually went down between the year 2000 and 2006. If you make more than $75,000 a year, increases in income have little impact on happiness.

Moreover, the happiness you feel from an increase in income is relative. You’re happy when you get richer than other people. But you feel less happy if you find others are growing richer than you. Eduardo Porter wrote in “The Price of Everything” that when economic growth results in some people getting more, the happiness of the rest goes down as much as it goes up for the bigger gainers. He calls happiness a zero-sum game.

President Park Geun-hye has promised an era of happiness. Her definition of it is a variation on her father’s “Let’s get rich” slogan. She pledges to boost economic growth and make the country richer so that everyone gets happier. But in a country with a per-capita income of $20,000, economic growth is not enough. She needs to think further. She wants to begin the era of happiness, but her cabinet likely won’t be formed for over a month. The current situation may cause too much suffering to make it worth waiting to see if she can follow through on her promises.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yi Jung-jae
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