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Politics of Fun

What can policy makers learn from the tons of research published each year telling us why or how people could become happier? The New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert inquires. A study from 1978, which compared the general happiness of a selection of lottery winners and a group of individuals who’d had debilitating accidents, found that at the time of the questionnaire the winners were no happier than the accident victims. “What should we do with information like this? On an individual level, it’s possible to stop buying lottery tickets, move back to Minnesota, and, provided the news reaches you in time, have your tubes tied. But there are more far-reaching societal implications to consider. Or so Derek Bok argues in his new book, “The Politics of Happiness: What Government Can Learn from the New Research on Well-Being” Bok, who served two stints as president of Harvard, begins with a discussion of prosperity and its discontents. Over the past three and a half decades, real per-capita income in the United States has risen from just over seventeen thousand dollars to almost twenty-seven thousand dollars... Yet, since the early seventies, the percentage of Americans who describe themselves as either ‘very happy’ or ‘pretty happy’ has remained virtually unchanged.”
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