Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Don't worry, be happy

Material wealth and welfare are greater than ever. The census bureau reports that the median size of new single-family homes in 2004 was over 2,000 square feet, up from just over 1,500 square feet in 1975. Longevity keeps lengthening and new medicines, including a cervical cancer vaccine made available last month, keep arriving.

And the happiness researchers (and pollsters) show that it means almost nothing to most of us. Is the research nuts or are survey respondents nuts?

Listen to someone who is surely not nuts. Alain de Botton notes (IHT, Sep 7, 2004; link gone missing):

"The most remarkable feature of the modern workplace has nothing to do with computers, automation or globalization. Rather, it lies in the Western world's widely held belief that our work should make us happy.

"All societies throughout history have had work right at their center; but ours -- particularly America's -- is the first to suggest that it could be something other than a punishment or penance. Our is the first to imply that a sane human being would want to work even if he wasn't under financial pressure to do so. We are unique, too, in allowing our choice of work to define who we are so that the central question we ask of new acquaintances is not no where they come from or who their parents are, but rather what it is they do -- as though only this could effectively reveal what gives a human life its distinctive timbre."