More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Why Are We Not Happy?
25 Nov 2007
by Steve Nguyen

Why are we not happy? This is a question I struggled with when I wasn?t sure what I wanted to do with my life, career-wise. But then after getting a graduate degree in Psychology and working I was still unhappy. Like many Americans, I sometimes (okay I often) wonder if I?d be happier if I had more money. Since I love to read about psychology and sociology, coupled with statistics, polls, and studies, I turned to the Internet for some answers.

In Yes magazine?s The Secret to Happiness, Dr. David Myers, a social psychologist, attempted to answer this question.

Dr. Myers said that we?re fooling ourselves if we think that money is the answer. Rather, he said that

?the good life springs less from earning one?s first million than from loving and being loved, from developing the traits that mark happy lives, from finding connection and meaningful hope in faith communities, and from experiencing ?flow? in work and recreation.?​
In recent UCLA/American Council on Education (ACE) surveys of nearly a quarter million entering college students, ?very well-off financially? were consistently the top ranked of 19 rated goals, outranking ?becoming an authority in my own field,? ?helping others in difficulty,? and ?raising a family. When pollsters asked the average American what makes ?the good life,? 38 percent in 1975 and 63 percent in 1996 chose ?a lot of money.?

In affluent countries such as the U.S. Europe, and Japan, there is (surprisingly) a weak link between wealth and well-being (happiness). Blue collar workers are just as happy as white collar workers and vice versa.

?People who go to work in their overalls and on the bus are just as happy, on the average, as those in suits who drive to work in their own Mercedes,? observes David Lykken, summarizing his own studies of happiness.

Are we happier today than say back in 1957?

?Compared to then, today?s America is the doubly affluent society?with doubled real incomes (thanks partly to the doubling of married women?s employment) and double what money buys. Americans today own about twice as many cars per person, eat out more than twice as often, and commonly enjoy big screen color TVs, microwave ovens, home computers, air conditioning, Post-it notes, and gobs of other goodies. Materially, these are the best of times.?

Studies show that Americans are actually unhappier today than they were 50 years ago. ?The number of Americans who say they are ?very happy? has declined?from 35 to 30 percent.?

Dr. Myers calls this the ?American paradox.?

?We at the end of the last century were finding ourselves with big houses and broken homes, high incomes and low morale, secured rights and diminished civility. We were excelling at making a living but too often failing at making a life. We celebrated our prosperity but yearned for purpose. We cherished our freedoms but longed for connection. In an age of plenty, we were feeling spiritual hunger.?​
If materialism and wealth are not the answer to happiness then what is?

Studies point out several factors:

  • Close, supportive relationships. We humans have what today?s social psychologists call a deep ?need to belong.? Those supported by intimate friendships or a committed marriage are much likelier to declare themselves ?very happy.?
  • Faith communities. Connection, meaning, and deep hope are often nourished in congregations. In National Opinion Research Center surveys of 42,000 Americans since 1972, 26 percent of those rarely or never attending religious services declared themselves very happy, as did 47 percent of those attending multiple times weekly.
  • Positive traits. Optimism, self-esteem, and perceived control over one?s life are among the traits that mark happy experiences and happy lives. Happy people typically report feeling an ?internal locus of control??they feel empowered. When deprived of control over one?s life?an experience studied in prisoners, nursing home patients, and people living under totalitarian regimes?people suffer lower morale and worse health. Severe poverty demoralizes when it erodes people?s sense of control over their life circumstances.
  • Flow. Work and leisure experiences that engage one?s skills also enable the good life. Between the anxiety of being overwhelmed and stressed, and the apathy of being underwhelmed and bored, lies a zone in which people experience flow?an optimal state in which, absorbed in an activity, they lose consciousness of self and time. Flow theorist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi found people reporting their greatest enjoyment not when mindlessly passive, but when unself-consciously absorbed in a mindful challenge. Most people are happier gardening than power-boating, talking to friends than watching TV. Low consumption recreations prove satisfying.
Thus, according to Dr. Myers and studies on happiness, those things which make for a ?good life? and which will last are ?close relationships, a hope-filled faith, positive traits, [and] engaging activity.?

Daniel E.
Wonderful article, especially the phrases:

...big houses and broken homes, high incomes and low morale...making a living but too often failing at making a life...celebrated our prosperity but yearned for purpose.

Another phrase in the same spirit:

Online But Disconnected
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Wonderful article. I heard about Gross National Happiness instead of Gross National Product today, for the first time.

It is discussed in Wikipedia as:
Gross National Happiness (GNH) is an attempt to define quality of life in more holistic and psychological terms than Gross National Product.

The term was coined by Bhutan's King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1972. It signaled his commitment to building an economy that would serve Bhutan's unique culture based on Buddhist spiritual values. Like many moral goals, it is somewhat easier to state than to define. Nonetheless, it serves as a unifying vision for the Five Year planning process and all the derived planning documents that guide the economic and development plans of the country.

While conventional development models stress economic growth as the ultimate objective, the concept of GNH claims to be based on the premise that true development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other. The four pillars of GNH are the promotion of equitable and sustainable socio-economic development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance.


That reminds me of something a psych professor was just teaching about predictors of a good relationship, was going in happy. It's rather empowering if you think about it...your own happiness has a lot to do with how happy you are in your relationships. It kind of stops the blame game.

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Indeed. Too many people go into relationships expecting the other person to make them happy.

Too many people have children for the same reason.
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