What’s wrong with that picture?

Happiness does not follow prosperity. Otherwise kazillionaires would not be drinking and self-medicating themselves to death. Or jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.

In America (and also in other countries), an impressive postwar rise in material well-being has had zero effect on personal well-being. The divergence between economic growth and subjective satisfaction began decades ago. Real per capita income has more than tripled since the late 1950s, but the percentage of people saying they are very happy has, if anything, slightly declined.

And

Ordinary people’s well-being depends mainly on their immediate surroundings. If you are an autoworker who loses your job in Massena, N.Y., when G.M. closes its local plant (moving some jobs to Mexico) and who spends years out of work and who watches as schools shut down and shops go dark and young people flee — for you, the fact that America’s big coastal cities are doing great, or that more than half a billion Chinese have been lifted out of extreme poverty, merely rubs salt in your wounds.

Second, all happiness is relative. Although moral philosophers may wish Homo sapiens were wired more rationally, we humans are walking, talking status meters, constantly judging our worth and social standing by comparing ourselves with others today and with our own prior selves.

Read More at the NY Times (paywall)