Insanity and America’s declining well-being

Spending and consuming more doesn’t equate to happiness or health, studies find

The author organizes a weekly citizen-led homeless outreach effort called Chico Friends on the Street.

Well-being and happiness studies are given less attention than sports scores, but ignoring them is like refusing to look at the results of a yearly check-up. Total cholesterol 442? Don’t bother me, doc, I’m eating!

The recently released 2017 UN World Happiness Report has Norway in the No. 1 position. The United States has dropped one spot; we are now 14th in the world. The alarming trend for the U.S. warranted a special chapter: “Restoring American Happiness.” It reads like a hellfire and brimstone sermon. We are being told that our happiness scores are dropping due to “inequality, corruption, isolation and distrust.”

Our primary problem is ever worsening wealth distribution. This results in poor access to medical care, chronic unemployment, difficulty in securing shelter, ever more unaffordable education and longer work hours under worse working conditions. The U.S. is experiencing a drop in life expectancy, too. And, while we live in a nation with continually less happiness, we also live in Butte County, which has hit the bottom of the barrel in the latest Gallup-Healthways Community Well-Being Index.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. We can’t become happier people by simply growing our economy; we’re already too good at that. Our GDP, per capita, is higher than Norway’s. We can’t do it by building bigger houses; our houses are already twice what Europeans’ occupy. We can’t do it by spending more on medicine; we already spend twice as much as any developed country—while dying sooner.

I noticed Costa Rica is two rungs above the U.S. I wondered how much energy Costa Ricans use compared with Americans: it’s about one-sixth—and that country’s per capita GDP is also about one-sixth of ours.

If Costa Ricans are happier and producing and consuming so much less, then we’ve been sold a bill of goods. It’s time to start thinking about how we share what we have—and less about growth. Time to address Sitting Bull’s complaint: “The white man knows how to make everything, but he does not know how to distribute it.”