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Monday, July 7, 2008

The Happiest Place on Earth (Hint: It's not Disneyland)

Ken Kerr

Much attention is being given, these days, to the concept of happiness. A recent study was conducted by University of Michigan political scientist Ronald Inglehart for the July 2008 issue of the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science. His findings were reported by the Associated Press on July 1, 2008.

study, of 17 years in 52 countries and involving 350,000 people, finds the happiest people in the world are not in here in the USA--but in Denmark; we are 16th. That is actually better than what Adrian White, an analytic social psychologist at the British Leicester University's School of Psychology, found. He places the USA at #23.

On the bright side, at the University of Michigan, their 20-year World Values survey places us at #15. Let's go with that one. However, even that list puts El Salvador ahead of us at #12. Hmmm, that means a sizable portion of the immigrant population here in Frederick, Maryland actually traded down.

Why is the #1 most prosperous country in the world only the 15th happiest? Apparently, money cannot buy happiness. In Daniel Gilbert's book, Stumbling on Happiness, he finds that once one's basic needs are met, a "little" more money brings a "little" more happiness. After that, more money does not bring more happiness or affect one's sense of
well-being. It seems that meeting life's basic needs is the big tipping point for getting happy.

There is always the difference in the definition of "basic needs." Nevertheless, the wealthier are not happier. The super rich are not super happy.

Inglehart found, "The happiest societies are those that allow people the freedom to choose how to live their lives." Maybe he is on to something there.

Gregg Easterbrook, in The Prosperity Paradox, writes, "It requires some effort to achieve a happy outlook on life, and most people don't make it." He also found that, "People who are grateful, optimistic and forgiving have better experiences with their lives, more happiness, fewer strokes, and higher incomes." Easterbrook also found that money makes people happy only when they give it away. People report higher levels of happiness when they use their wealth to help others.

Under Barack Obama's tax plan, a worker making up to $200,000 a year would pay no additional payroll taxes. I'd say most of us could have our "basic needs" met with that income. However, those making $250,000 or more a year would pay an additional 6.2 percent in payroll taxes.

Perhaps the next congress and president can do the wealthy a big favor and help them get a little happier.

It's the least we can do. It would make me happier.

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