Why Are We So Unhappy?

Regis Nicoll
Regis Nicoll

The recent spate of suicides by the rich and famous is a symptom of our growing sense of gloom. We enjoy social, technological, and economic conditions that would have been considered utopian less than a century ago. Yet, unhappiness, and even depression, are at record levels. Why?

In his impressively researched book, The Progress Paradox, Gregg Easterbrook observes that by every measure of well-being, our generation is better off than any of our forbearers. We enjoy more leisure time with better health, less air pollution, higher levels of education, higher per-capita income, and greater personal and civil liberties than at any other time in history.

Even compared to the halcyon 1950s, our generation has it better in terms of real income, home and car ownership, not to mention morbidity, mortality, education, environmental quality, and the fair treatment of minorities. Whereas, in the past, these benefits were limited to the rich and privileged, today they are realized by a wide spectrum of society. For example, in 1960, 22 percent of Americans lived under the poverty line, compared to 12.7 percent in 2016.

All these material measures should add up to an increased sense of well-being. But they don’t. Instead, the incidence of depression has skyrocketed (up to one thousand times higher) since the Halcyon Decade.

Gloominess in an age of unprecedented progress is a paradox in need of an explanation. Continue reading here. 

 
Originally published June 19, 2018.

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