So, how come this is true?
British families are healthier and twice as well off as they were two decades ago but are no happier, according to an official survey.
Life expectancy has increased significantly over the past 35 years for both men and women, while the number of people dying from heart disease and strokes has markedly declined, figures have disclosed.
Household wealth and expenditure also doubled in Britain between 1987 and 2006, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in its Social Trends survey. Yet despite this boost in health and wealth, levels of contentment remain virtually unchanged.
Between 1973 and 2006, people\’s satisfaction levels have hovered around an average of 86 per cent.
The ONS said the plateau effect was an example of the "Easterlin Paradox", in which the relationship between income and happiness declines after a certain level of wealth is reached.
"In the UK, as in the United States and many other countries, life satisfaction overall has levelled off, despite increasing real economic wealth," said Paul Allin, an ONS spokesman.
Now we know that this result is going to be used (as it already has been at great length by such as Richard Layard and at shorter by Polly) to justify all sorts of confiscations of wealth and income to be spent upon pet schemes. If increasing wealth doesn\’t make us happier, then such confiscations won\’t make us unhappier. There will also be the Greens stating that as economic growth doesn\’t make us happier then there\’s no problem in stopping it in praise of Gaia.
And there I think is the point. I\’m perfectly willing to agree that the absolute level of wealth doesn\’t make us happier. But (and I\’m sorry, I\’ve forgotten where I first saw this idea floated) that doesn\’t mean that changes in wealth have no effect upon happiness.
The thought is that living in an economy where things are, in general and year by year, decade by decade, getting better, is what creates that high level of contentment. "Things Can Only Get Better" being something that we humans rather like to feel. A static economy, or worse, a shrinking one, do not offer that same feeling of general well being.
It\’s not the level of wealth, it\’s the direction that level is heading in. We may all already be fat upon the cornucopian choice that this liberal capitalism shtick offers us, but the happy part comes from the knowledge that tomorrow we\’ll be even fatter.
If anyone can remember who stated this in a more formal manner I\’d be most grateful if they could tell me.