Quantifying happiness

Updated: Jan 28 2005, 05:30am hrs
I/Who do not live in London, but in Los Angeles/Find, contemplating Hell, that it /Must be even more like Los Angeles/ Also in Hell/I do not doubt it, there exist../..endless trains of autos/..Rosy people, coming from nowhere, go nowhere/And houses, designed for happiness, standing empty/ Even when inhabited.

Stirring, these lines by Bertolt Brecht Apparently so, as even economics, the dismal science, has become increasingly interested in the question of happiness. Surveys suggest that, on average, people in the US, Europe and Japan are no more pleased with their lot than in the 1950s. The rich, on average, are happier than the poorbut not that much so. Theres little difference between the reported happiness of people with incomes between $36,000 and $145,000.

If the link between GDP and happiness has broken, the objective of ensuring economic growth is questionable. And can happiness be quantified Daniel Kahneman, Princeton psychology professor and Alan Krueger, a Princeton economist, are working on a new national well-being account. The Day Reconstruction Method (DRM), developed by their team, creates an enjoyment scale, by requiring people to record the previous days activities and describe their feelings.

What about subjectivity Different surveys produce different results. While most find education equals increased happiness, one suggests British graduates have lower life-satisfaction ratings than other workers. Another finds happiness initially decreases, as one gets older, hitting the bottom in the 30s, and rises thereafter. Being married has been reported, on average, as a much happier state than being single. Economists calculate marriage generates the same additional happiness as an additional income of $US100,000 a year.

Essentially, happiness may be elusive and transitory if expected out of the pursuit of money and material goods. In the words of Raymond Carver, The sky is taking on light,/though the moon still hangs pale over the water./Such beauty that for a minute/death and ambition, even love,/doesnt enter into this./Happiness. It comes on/unexpectedly. And goes beyond...