Monday, October 26, 2009

Gross National Happiness

As I wait for Broke is Beautiful to be released this spring, I continue to read books on some of the subjects in it. One is this rather unfortunate idea that we have that work makes us unhappy. In fact, work makes us happy. It is not having a sense of control over one's work that makes a person feel unhappy.

As Arthur C. Brooks noted in Gross National Happiness:

...within the bounds of normal worklife, the data are overwhelming clear that for most Americans, work in and of itself brings happiness-- regardless of how much income it generates... if gross national happiness is our goal, the American formula of hard work appears to function pretty well...

...economists frequently refer to the "labor-leisure trade-off," in which people have to decide whether to work or not, and if so, how much. It is true enough that these decisions exist. But economists usually make the further assumption that time spent in leisure gives us pleasure, while time spent in labor gives us pain-- and that we only work because it is necessary to earn money, which we want in order to meet other desires... this assumption is... inconspicously embedded in a lot of economic policy... An easy conclusion to be sure-- but, as evidence has shown, an incorrect one...

To the extent that work gives people a sense that they are in charge of their lives, it will bring them joy. If work-- or the lack of work-- strips people of control, it will bring misery.