Why Americans are unhappier than ever – and how to fix it – George Ward

George Ward, MIT Sloan PhD student

From The Conversation

March 20 is International Day of Happiness and, as they’ve done every year, the United Nations has published the World Happiness Report. The U.S. ranks 18th among the world’s countries, with an average life satisfaction of around 6.88 on a scale of 10.

While that may be relatively near the top, America’s happiness figures have actually declined every year since the reports began in 2012, and this year’s are the lowest yet. The question, then, is whether the government has a role to play in improving the happiness of its citizens. And if so, how might policymakers go about it?

Fortunately, a growing body of work by economists and psychologists can give governments access to the kind of data that can inform the way they think about policy and happiness.

In our new book, “The Origins of Happiness: The Science of Well-Being Over the Life Course,” my colleagues and I provide a systematic account of what makes for a satisfying life.

The role of government

The idea that government ought to focus attention on the well-being of its citizens goes back centuries. Thomas Jefferson himself said, “The care of human life and happiness … is the only legitimate object of good government.”

Historically, this has meant increasing economic productivity and growth to increase personal happiness. But as the data suggest, and many countries are beginning to realize, this isn’t likely to be sufficient. As a result, many governments around the world are now taking steps to broaden their policy goals beyond GDP. Read More »