Are we trading our happiness to the system?

In fact, the article describes American life with the data of America. But I still wanted to share because I find this relatable to our current status quo.

One of the biggest paradoxes in American life is that while, on average, existence has gotten more comfortable over time, happiness has fallen.

The article uses many data to justify that. Everything is getting more comfortable, even the living space per person is getting larger.

There are several possible explanations for this paradox:

  1. People are uninformed about all of this amazing progress,
  2. We can’t perceive progress very well when it occurs over decades,
  3. We are measuring the wrong indicators of “quality of life.” 

The answer might be all three.

We don’t get happier as our society gets richer, because we chase the wrong things.

The article explains 3 principles to help us keep the forces of modern life from ruining our happiness.


Marketers know that if they can grab hold of your brain chemistry—get you in a state of “hedonic consumption” in which your decisions are driven by pleasure more than utility—they can probably sell you something, whether you “need” it or not. But we can resist advertising’s pull on our emotions. Next time you are presented with the claim that this or that product will make you happy, channel your inner monk, and say five times, out loud: “This will not bring me satisfaction.” Then imagine yourself in six months looking back on this decision, pleased that you made it correctly.


Governments and politicians do affect our lives. But they cannot bring happiness. This point was forcefully driven home to me a couple of years ago by Mogens Lykketoft, the former speaker of the Danish Parliament and a leading social-democratic politician in Denmark. We were filming a documentary about the pursuit of happiness, and in response to a question about Denmark’s famously happy population, he said, “Government cannot bring happiness, but it can eliminate the sources of unhappiness.”


I have referenced in this blog before a famous study that followed hundreds of men who graduated from Harvard from 1939 to 1944 throughout their lives, into their 90s.

It concludes that substitutes for close human relationships in your life is a bad trade. The study I mentioned above about uses of money makes this point. But the point goes much deeper. You will sacrifice happiness if you crowd out relationships with work, drugs, politics, or social media.

The world encourages us to love things and use people. But that’s backwards. Put this on your fridge and try to live by it: Love people; use things.

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