There has been more in the media this week about happiness. An old theme on thisfragiletent- see here and here.
The latest interest followed the release of a report suggesting the following-
A survey of 1,000 Americans found that happiness rose in line with salary, but only until people earned $75,000 a year, the equivalent of around £50,000.
Earning more than this did nothing to boost how happy people were, according to Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist at Princeton University in New Jersey, who won the Nobel prize for economics in 2002.
Kahneman teamed up with Angus Deaton, an economist at Princeton, to analyse 450,000 responses to a daily survey on happiness and life satisfaction run by Gallup in 2008 and 2009.
The survey asked people to rate how happy they felt each day, based on their experiences of emotions such as joy, worry, sadness and fascination. They were then asked to rate their overall satisfaction with life, on a scale where zero was the worst they could imagine life to be and 10 being the best.
The researchers found that life satisfaction rose steadily the more people were paid. Happiness rose with income too, but plateaued when people reached an annual salary of $75,000. For those on more, happiness appeared to depend on other factors.
It raises lots of issues for me-
Why do we keep using MONEY as a measure of happiness? Sure, there is point at which poverty (our ability to meet basic needs- including those relative to those around us) will impinge on our humanity, but beyond this, sooner or later we all come to realise that accumulating wealth is simply a distraction from deeper stuff. In this instance, only 10% of the population earn more than £50K pa, so clearly this level of attainment is not a realistic or sustainable goal for wider society.
There was a great programme on Radio 4 this lunchtime inviting comment and discussion on this issue. The whole range of issues came up-
The millionaire who was adamant that his money DID bring happiness, and freedom to live the life he wanted.
The person living on £5K pa on benefits, who found every day a struggle.
The person who gave up her £50K job as she was unhappy- and returned to doing simpler things.
Happiness is a difficult concept for introspective mercurial types like me. I am happiest when I do not need to think about happiness. When I am at rest with people I love, or doing something creative, or catching a echo of the voice of the Spirit…
I am pondering again how we as Christians are called to a different way of being- living to the agenda set by Jesus. Lives of Spirit-fruitfulness, including that word ‘joy’, which is not the same thing as happiness. Not sure I can define exactly how it is different though, or claim to a complete experience of joy.
But I do worry about how we Christians get seduced by the same selfish consumer-oriented agendas. I think that rather than a life style enhancement (do you remember that term moralistic therapeutic deism?) learning to live as a follower of Jesus seems to me to be about seeking to live in an open way, connected to others, and to find ways of giving/graciously receiving.
All this striving for more stuff, and the chasing after experiences that give life shape and meaning- it just does not fit well with the the ways of Jesus that we learn from the gospels.
And because faith without works is dead, then Jesus calls us on an adventure- a mission. Fulfilment and happiness may be discovered along the way, but they are not the object of life, rather they might be encountered as a by product- in the midst of all sorts of other things perhaps? Suffering, persecution, friendship, pain, joy, etc etc…
On the radio 4 programme, someone said this-
Happiness can be understood as like making a daisy chain with flowers that are close at hand
A bit trite, but I liked the simplicity of this.
You are where you are, surrounded by the people you are surrounded by, and equipped with the gifts and talents you are equipped with.
In this mix, is it possible there are also seeds of great happiness?