I’m pretty sure all of us are familiar with the cliche, “money can’t buy happiness. ” In Gregg Easterbrook book The Progress Paradox he tries to understand why a small variances of this cliche is so. The paradox that underlies Easterbrook’s venture is that through out the last fifty years, things have improved in the United States and Europe, by all objective standards. All though during same time, surveys of happiness and satisfaction have not changed since the fifties.
Easterbrook’s main question through out the book asking has the objective measures of the well being of man kind increased while overall satisfaction of people and happiness have remained constant? In the three beginning chapters of this book Easterbrook spends a lot of time looking at surveys depicting the various objective measures that show a pretty much steady increase of progress. I found these chapters entertaining to read because it brings to light a huge range of facts and statistics that add support to his idea that things are constantly improving.
Easterbrook goes on about how the crime rate is falling, the state of the environment is improving, we are gaining intelligence, equality is increasing and economic situations have improved. Crime, both violent and property have been in decline for 20 years. Current crime rates are probably the lowest in the history of the country. The environment has been improving in every area except green house gases. We have the cleanest air since the beginning of the industrial revolution and the cleanest water since Man was a hunter and gatherer. n the statistics discussed, Easterbrook references a 1996 poll that resulted in 52% of the respondents saying the United States was worse now than when their parents were growing up and 60% said they expected their children to live in an even worse country. Only 15% of the respondents believed that overall national conditions were improving (Easterbrook, 2004). In 1997, 66% of Americans reported that they believed “the lot of the average person is getting worse” (Easterbrook, 2004). Easterbrook raises the question “How is this possible” with the dramatic increase in overall general progress.
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Along with discussing the statistics of the many surveys, Easterbrook also gives the reader possible reasons for the so-called paradox. One of the possible reasons he gives is “choice anxiety. ” When looking back on the past a lot of people had very few options due to limited income and limited availability of goods and services. But Easterbrook fights that there is flip side to the stress that comes from having to many options, just like not having enough options can be stressful as well.
With the constant increase in the range of goods and services available even the easiest choices can become stressful. Easterbrook states this because a consumer can never really be sure if they are making the correct decision causing stress and unhappiness. Another possible reason Easterbrook gives is “Abundance denial. ” This means that no matter how much individuals actually have materially, they will never view them as being “well-off”, which is constantly making people unhappy and stress out. Easterbrook states that a most Americans think of only the rich as being “well-off. This brings me to my favorite statistic my favorite statistic: there have been around sixty billion people who ever lived, the 600 million who live in western democracies such as Europe, North America, Japan and Australia live better than anyone else in history (better housing, medical care, nutrition etc. )(Easterbrook, 2004). Since my standard of living is considered about average that means that I live better than 99. 5% of people who have ever lived. We are the one percenters, as far as the history of the world goes. Our current one percenters live better than 99. 9% of people, ever. One more possible reason is “collapse anxiety,” the widespread fear that the prosperity of the United States and Europe may come to an end due to an economic crash, environmental problems, terrorism or some other catastrophe. Even though individuals are better off that constant notion that it is unmanageable leads to people being unhappy and unsatisfied. It’s hard for people to sit back and really appreciate things when they are in constant fear that it could someday end. Lastly he considers “the revolution of satisfied expectations” as a possible explanation.
He refers this to as the uneasiness that follows items that an individual once dreamed of having. Easterbrook states that during the last century western life has been categorized by ever increasing expectations, with each generation expecting to have more than the previous generation. In today’s day and age we have reached a point where people have most of what they need. What Easterbrook is trying to say with this explanation is that it is hard to imagine things getting any better than they already are kind of giving individuals nothing to look forward to.
After reading this book I had some general issues. First off is the issue of happiness. The beginning of the book deals with objective measures over time that forms a steady increase in progress. To form the paradox the objective facts were compared to the subjective measures of happiness. Of course Easterbrook states that the surveys are not exactly perfect he claims that they “illuminating nonetheless” (Easterbrook, 2004). However I think this is questionable. The perception of happiness is not constant among individuals at one point in time, let alone over several decades.
Each person could have a completely different outlook on happiness. What can be happiness for one person could be sadness or another feeling for someone else. With each person entitled to their own subjective view on what they consider to be happiness, they are also entitled to have a subjective perception of what others experienced in the past and what others will experience in the future. So when surveyors asked respondents if they thought their parents would better off or if their children will be better off, it’s not an objective measure but a subjective perception of the past and future.
It doesn’t seem clear why we In short, it is not clear why we would assume the level of subjective satisfaction to increase with objective well-being. I feel like Easterbrook was trying to say that in the past it seemed like things were always getting better but now in the future since things are improving so quickly it doesn’t seem like we could continue to progress in the future. It is unclear why people should think that progress couldn’t continue and, therefore, have lower expectations for the future. This question is left unanswered.
If you asked, most people would agree that money and material things are not the meaning of happiness. With this, why would we expect to see a connection between an increase in progress and an increase in happiness? It isn’t clear that the claim has ever been that prosperity and progress will lead to the end of all stress and uneasiness. In the end there are two traits that correlate closely with happiness: forgiveness and gratitude. Forgive those that have done you wrong and be grateful for what you have. •Easterbrook, Greg. The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feels Worse. Random House Publishing Group, 2004. eBook.
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