Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Spreading Sunshine

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Spreading Sunshine

Article excerpt

"Will Globalization Make You Happy?" by Robert Wright, in Foreign Policy (Sept--Oct 2000), Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1779 Maasachusetts Ave NW Washington D.C. 20036.

Thanks to globalization, many of the world's have-nots are smiling a lot more these days, argues Wright, a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny (2000), and he has the scientific assays of global sunshine to prove it.

"Psychologists have gone to dozens of nations, rich and poor, and asked people how satisfied they are with their lives," he explains. The results indicate "a clear connection between a nation's per capita gross domestic product (GDP) and the average happiness of its citizens"--but only up to the point where GDP per capita reaches about $10,000 a year. That's about where Greece, Portugal, and South Korea are today.

Money evidently can buy happiness, when poor people can turn their increased income into a fairly comfortable standard of living, with improved diets, medical care, and shelter, and perhaps even more political freedom--but after that, the happiness payoff rapidly vanishes. Above the $10,000 per capita level, "additional dollars don't seem to cheer up nations," says Wright, "and national differences in happiness hinge on the intangibles of culture" (which, for instance, make the Irish, though less wealthy, significantly happier than the Germans, the Japanese, and the British).

Not only does rising national income fail to make rich nations happier, says Wright, but even as their average level of happiness stays the same, "the small fraction" suffering from chronic depression and other serious mental illnesses expands. …

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