In the December issue of The Economist Magazine, there is an article about age and happiness. It states that traditionally countries typically measure GDP or Gross National Product The country of Bhutan measures “Gross National Happiness”.
The U-Bend basically states, people get happier as they get older.
These ideas have penetrated the policy arena, starting in Bhutan, where the concept of Gross National Happiness shapes the planning process. All new policies have to have a GNH assessment, similar to the environmental-impact assessment common in other countries. In 2008 France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, asked two Nobel-prize-winning economists, Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz, to come up with a broader measure of national contentedness than GDP. Then last month, in a touchy-feely gesture not typical of Britain, David Cameron announced that the British government would start collecting figures on well-being.
There are already a lot of data on the subject collected by, for instance, America’s General Social Survey, Eurobarometer and Gallup. Surveys ask two main sorts of question. One concerns people’s assessment of their lives, and the other how they feel at any particular time. The first goes along the lines of: thinking about your life as a whole, how do you feel? The second is something like: yesterday, did you feel happy/contented/angry/anxious? The first sort of question is said to measure global well-being, and the second hedonic or emotional well-being. They do not always elicit the same response: having children, for instance, tends to make people feel better about their life as a whole, but also increases the chance that they felt angry or anxious yesterday.
Whatever the causes of the U-bend, it has consequences beyond the emotional. Happiness doesn’t just make people happy—it also makes them healthier. John Weinman, professor of psychiatry at King’s College London, monitored the stress levels of a group of volunteers and then inflicted small wounds on them. The wounds of the least stressed healed twice as fast as those of the most stressed.
At Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Sheldon Cohen infected people with cold and flu viruses. He found that happier types were less likely to catch the virus, and showed fewer symptoms of illness when they did. So although old people tend to be less healthy than younger ones, their cheerfulness may help counteract their crumbliness.
Happier people are more productive, too. Mr Oswald and two colleagues, Eugenio Proto and Daniel Sgroi, cheered up a bunch of volunteers by showing them a funny film, then set them mental tests and compared their performance to groups that had seen a neutral film, or no film at all. The ones who had seen the funny film performed 12% better.
The data is in. After reviewing employment status, money, children, circumstances, happiness that follows middle aged misery must be the result NOT of external circumstances, but of internal changes.
Take a moment to review this article and then ask yourself, “what internal changes are needed for me to be happy?”
From the article, “this leads to two conclusions. First, if you are going to volunteer for a study, choose the economists’ experiment rather than the psychologists’ or psychiatrists’. Second, the cheerfulness of the old should help counteract their loss of productivity through declining cognitive skills—a point worth remembering as the world works out how to deal with an ageing workforce.”