http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2011/08/30/jeff-sachs-and-the-economics-of-happiness/

According to Sachs:
Here are some of the initial conclusions. First, we should not denigrate the value of economic progress. When people are hungry, deprived of basic needs such as clean water, health care, and education, and without meaningful employment, they suffer. Economic development that alleviates poverty is a vital step in boosting happiness.

Second, relentless pursuit of GNP to the exclusion of other goals is also no path to happiness. In the US, GNP has risen sharply in the past 40 years, but happiness has not. Instead, single-minded pursuit of GNP has led to great inequalities of wealth and power, fueled the growth of a vast underclass, trapped millions of children in poverty, and caused serious environmental degradation.

Third, happiness is achieved through a balanced approach to life by both individuals and societies. As individuals, we are unhappy if we are denied our basic material needs, but we are also unhappy if the pursuit of higher incomes replaces our focus on family, friends, community, compassion, and maintaining internal balance. As a society, it is one thing to organize economic policies to keep living standards on the rise, but quite another to subordinate all of society’s values to the pursuit of profit.


The response: "what he’s saying is vile and pernicious."

This idea that as we all get richer we don’t get happier is known as the Easterlin Paradox. And the thing about the Easterlin Paradox is that it isn’t in fact true. From Wikipedia:
In 2003 Ruut Veenhoven and Michael Hagerty published a new analysis based on including various sources of data, and their conclusion was that there is no paradox and countries did indeed get happier with increasing income.[2] In his reply Easterlin maintained his position, suggesting that his critics were using inadequate data.[3]

In 2008, economists Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson, both of the University of Pennsylvania, published a paper where they reassessed the Easterlin paradox using new time-series data. They conclude like Veenhoven et al. that, contrary to Easterlin’s claim, increases in absolute income are clearly linked to increased self-reported happiness, for both individual people and whole countries.[2][4][5][6] The statistical relationship demonstrated is between happiness and the logarithm of absolute income, suggesting that above a certain point, happiness increases more slowly than income, but no “saturation point” is ever reached. The study provides evidence that happiness is determined not only by relative income, but also by absolute income.

Rising income becomes less important as a determinant of our income as we become richer, sure. This is something an economist like Professor Sachs should be able to grasp, the entire subject being built upon behaviours at the margins and declining marginal happiness of income isn’t a tough thing to fit into the general theoretical framework.

Where we get to vile and pernicious is what happens after we’ve accepted the Paradox: that we should not only take the advice from the Good Professor about how our lives could be made better, we should be forced to do so. We must give up that search for more lucre which makes us happier and take the path that the Professor thinks will (or even “should”) make us happier, one more concerned with inter-personal relationships.

You see, the thing is, different things make different people happy in different ways at different times. That’s why there is no “one path”. That’s why the Constitution promises to protect the “pursuit of happiness”, in the acknowledgement that there are both different forms of it and different paths to it.

We should no more be forced to spend time with our families (mine’s fine but there are enough misery memoirs out there to show that not all are) than we should be forced to spend more time at the office.