NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 13, 2008

The advice will sound familiar: Get a job, get married, go to church and don't listen to wild-eyed utopians. In such a way, it is said; you will find your portion of happiness.   In "Gross National Happiness," Arthur C. Brooks has assembled an array of statistics to measure the mood of America's citizens and to discover the reasons they feel as they do.

At the end of the day, political conservatives take the happiness prize hands down, notes Brooks: Those who identify themselves as conservative or very conservative are twice as likely to say that they're very happy as those who identify themselves as liberal or very liberal.

Brooks challenges those partial to tales about long-suffering Wal-Mart workers and surly burger flippers to rethink their victimology creed.  The woe is not nearly as widespread as rumored:

  • Some 89 percent of Americans who work more than 10 hours a week are very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their jobs while only 11 percent are not very satisfied or not at all satisfied.
  • Most surprisingly, Brooks writes, there "is no difference at all in job satisfaction between those with below-average and above-average incomes."

What really makes Americans hate their jobs is a perception that advancement is impossible.  And while Brooks agrees that the nation's income gap is growing, the national happiness level is steady:

  • Just under one-third of American adults say that they are "very happy"; up to 15 percent are not too happy; and everyone else is somewhere in the middle.
  • Those numbers have been roughly true since the early 1970s.
  • More government spending doesn't seem to raise happiness levels, though direct government assistance may diminish it.
  • Charitable giving, Brooks adds, generally lifts the spirits; Americans do a lot of it.

Source: Dave Shiflett, "How to be of Good Cheer," Wall Street Journal, May 12, 2008.

For text: 


Browse more articles on Economic Issues