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The economics of happiness

By Raleigh Loughman
web posted October 31, 2016

"While everyone would be happier if economic growth were to come to a halt, people are locked into a mass delusion about the desirability of growth." wrote Angus Deaton in his Article, In Pursuit of Happiness (2010).

Many people believe wealth correlates to happiness, but "How can I be rich?" is not the right response to "How can I be happy?". These questions are a typical example of the fallacy of false cause - reaching the incorrect conclusion that one event causes another because the two events sometimes to occur together. Wealth is not the cause of happiness and vice versa.

Most choices in life have a scarce good. A scarce good is the choice of one alternative which requires that another one be forgone. One of my favorite quotes is "travel is the only thing that you can buy that makes you richer". That quote is a perfect example of a scarce good. You choose whether to travel the world or stay at home and save your money. Not traveling and saving money makes you richer. Right? Wrong. Traveling makes you rich in other ways: meeting new people and exploring new cultures. It gives you a different taste of the world, new understandings and in the end I hope, makes you happier.

Volunteering is another example of how making money is not the end all to happiness. To volunteer is also a prime example of opportunity cost - the value of the best alternative forgone in making a choice. You typically have to give up another job or opportunity (possible a paying one) to volunteer. The paying job is the best alternative forgone in volunteering. Being a volunteer makes you rich in other ways. It teaches you how to give without getting anything in return. Giving is one of the most valuable life lessons, and makes your character richer - which, in turn, makes your life richer.

I volunteer 3-4 days a week for 4 hours a day, coaching 8-9-year-old boys and girls at my soccer club. This time and energy, a scarce good, could be used at a paying job. I choose to spend it volunteering because I know that it is the choice that will bring me more happiness. It makes me so happy when they break their juggling record or try out a new move in a game. It makes me so happy when they sprint up to me and give me huge hugs or tell me they look up to me. That happiness, in turn, makes me richer in love and leadership.

Many people believe that wealth is strongly correlated to happiness. But one event does not cause another just because they can sometimes occur together. Being wealthy is not the cause of happiness. Just like happiness is not the cause of being wealthy. "How can I be richer?" is not, and never will be, the right response to "How can I be happier?". ESR

Raleigh Loughman is a junior in high school and this is her first contribution to Enter Stage Right.

 

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