October 11, 2005

The pursuit of happiness

I read in the paper yesterday that a vice president of the Morgan Stanley investment firm visited Sweden. He came to say that Europeans need to consume more, and that Europe and China have been underconsuming for quite some time. What to make of this bold accusation?

Then there was a great article in the New York Times about the country of Bhutan. In 1972, newly crowned King Jigme Singye Wangchuck considered the problems to be found in developing countries that were focusing exclusively on economic grownth. Therefore, instead of thinking about the Gross National Product, he decided to concern himself with the Gross National Happiness. The King decided that Bhutan 'needed to ensure that prosperity was shared across society and that it was balanced against preserving cultural traditions, protecting the environment and maintaining a responsive government. ' He was able to lengthen the average life expectancy in the country by 19 years between 1984 and 1998, and the country is now preparing to shift to a constitutional system with an elected government.

Now, what exactly did the founding fathers mean when they wrote about 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness'? I don't think they were talking about the joy of shopping, but instead, more fundamental virtues.

What does the well-developed consumer economy of the US deliver in terms of happiness? Not life expectancy. Residents of many countries that consume less than the US report themselves to be happier.

There must be another dimension!


At October 12, 2005 5:52 PM , Blogger Chaz said...

Thank you for your interesting blog. I very much enjoy reading it.

I hope that all Americans don't look to the vice president of the Morgan Stanley for the direction to happiness. He is a salesman who wants to make money.

At October 13, 2005 10:44 AM , Blogger Matt_J said...

Hey Chaz, thanks for stopping by. No, of course you're right, he is a salesman. But he touched on something -- the message is out there that we have a duty to consume, we need to do our part, and sometimes consumers are blamed for not being more confident-- that they (or we) are at fault for limiting growth, layoffs, recession, inflation, whatever. ('The Christmas shopping season is a disaster and consumers are to blame!') Do we have a duty to consume? In some people's minds at least I think economic progress is taken as the best indicator of happiness and well-being. Many people don't look to Morgan Stanley for the answers-- but many people do.

At October 16, 2005 6:23 AM , Blogger Crystal said...

Comsumption gets old after a while, and doesn't lead to the happiness that everyone is searching for.


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