新葡京娱乐场官网:Is happiness found in our minds or in our wallets?
来源：未知 作者：仲长镯京 时间：2019-03-01 02:12:02
By Debora MacKenzie “Increased wealth in the US accrues almost entirely to the rich” (Image: George Steinmetz/Corbis) Three new books explore the origins of inequality, what scarcity does to our minds and how to teach your brain to be happy HAPPINESS is a minefield. Many believe it is what we are here for, that a life is well-lived if it makes you happy. That view, like modern science, comes from 18th-century humanism: the US Declaration of Independence made the pursuit of happiness a right as inalienable as liberty and life itself, and one worth going to war for. Of course, the Declaration continued, that’s why we have governments – to protect that pursuit. So is it up to “them” to make “us” happy? Or are we all responsible? Folk wisdom says that whatever causes happiness, it ain’t money. The data, however, disagree. Angus Deaton, an economist at Princeton University, has written a book not primarily about happiness, but about the “great escape” from poverty and poor health that much – but not all – of humanity made in the past century. This is one of the most momentous events in history, and deserves attention. But has it made us happy? Up to a point, says Deaton: about $1800 in GDP per person, Kenya’s level. The further your country is below that, the less likely you are to say you felt happy yesterday. Above that point, as countries get wealthier, their people are somewhat more likely to report being happy, but the two do not correlate closely – and income makes no difference to stress, worry or anger. Similarly, within the US, more income means more happiness, at least up to $70,000 a year. Above that, more appears to make no difference. Within the US, more income means more happiness, at least up to $70,000 a year The problem for many in the US is getting past that number. Deaton details how increased wealth in the US accrues almost entirely to the rich, generating spiralling inequality. That may be a source of unhappiness by itself, and disappointingly, Deaton doesn’t explore this. It does mean that while wealth has grown steadily in the US since the mid-1970s, the typical American family’s hasn’t. So perhaps it is no surprise, he notes, that they also report no increase in happiness. Deaton’s main argument is that change is never distributed equally, so economic growth always results in inequality. The crucial question is, what next? Inequality can spread prosperity if those left behind can catch up. But with too much inequality, Deaton argues, the rich protect their interests by pulling the ladder up behind them – think of increasingly unaffordable healthcare and universities. Too much of that, he says, and improvement stops for everyone. I would have liked more about the idea that limits to inequality may be in everyone’s interests. Instead, Deaton vents about development, claiming most efforts to limit population are irrelevant and coercive. Certainly, many population experts don’t agree with him. He insists that aid to poor countries merely breeds corruption and stifles home-grown development. That seems a bit too Reaganomic to be the whole answer, although we would help many poor nations more by buying their exports than by giving them handouts. And one cannot disagree when Deaton says that, if we want to help, we should buy research to help them cure diseases and grow food. If the poor are to make their own way out of poverty, however, they will need to be able to think clearly. That could be difficult. A very different flavour of economist, Sendhil Mullainathan at Harvard University, and a psychologist, Eldar Shafir at Princeton, have studied how scarcity itself affects the brain. No one who has dieted will be surprised to learn that the brain focuses ferociously on what it feels is lacking. This reflex evolved to help us find what we need. The team’s real insight is that it applies to all scarcities, not just of money, but of time and even social contact. We “tunnel” in on the scarcity and ignore anything outside. Within that fierce focus, the future looks less menacing than the scarcity we face now. So we borrow money, then borrow more, disregarding future costs as interest mounts, until we are deeply in debt. Time debts spiral in the same way. Focusing on scarcity hogs our mental “bandwidth”, leaving less brain power for other things. We forget tasks, resolve and judgement slip. This is supported by fascinating psychological experiments, where contrived scarcities of time or resources make experimentees behave as the model predicts: they tunnel in, make bad decisions, run up debts. The authors look mainly at how this “scarcity trap” affects poverty (New Scientist, 7 September, p 17). But it affects happiness, too: as Deaton reports, being poor does not make you happy, and nor do other scarcities. Observations of real poor people, meanwhile, suggest that constant scarcity means a constant shortage of bandwidth, explaining why poor people can seem self-defeating: they forget pills, miss deadlines, don’t fill out forms. Efforts to escape poverty are derailed by inevitable, small setbacks for which there are no spare resources, material or mental. The rich have dismissed this with social Darwinism (“they’re poor because they act like that”) or Victorian moralising (“they’re just lazy”). Instead, the research suggests it’s the way all our brains handle scarcity. This seems a much better, psychologically informed way to approach poverty. It can be a bit glib sometimes: any problem, it seems, can be ascribed to bandwidth. But it does suggest a few solutions, such as avoiding bandwidth-sapping administrative hurdles in programmes for the poor. Moreover, we might all be better off – even happier – if we recognised our own obsessions with scarcity. For real self-help, though, give me a meditating Californian neuropsychologist. Rick Hanson also believes the brain has evolved to focus on negative events, three kinds in fact, which when you look at them also boil down to scarcities: of security, of resources, of social connection. This focus had evolutionary advantages, but in a complex modern world the obsession is unhelpful. It seems Hanson has observed, through his clinical practice, the same scarcity-obsessed brain as Mullainathan and Shafir. Arguably, their experimental evidence might support his broader model for how it messes up our lives. Broader, because Hanson concentrates on applying the model. He observes that tunnelling in on unhappy means we pay undue attention to happy. That suggests a way out: Hanson proposes that if we take a few minutes several times a day to focus in a meditative way on even trivial occasions when these scarcities are remedied, instead of racing back to the brain’s dark obsession, we will be happier. He offers no direct proof it works, though he does cite studies supporting the psychology, and showing that repeated mental activities do change the brain. The book is mostly about such techniques, and if you can handle the language of meditation, who knows – it might change your life. Meanwhile, I’m sure some leaders would like to use this kind of thinking to blame citizens for their unhappiness. Tell that to a family struggling to hold down multiple jobs, stuck way under that magical $70,000. It may be our job to pursue happiness, and the insights of psychology can help us discover how our brains betray us, and rein them in. But as the Declaration said, governments are instituted to make that pursuit possible. Levelling depressingly uneven playing fields is their patch. Hardwiring Happiness: The new brain science of contentment, calm, and confidence Rick Hanson Random House Scarcity: Why having too little means so much Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir Allen Lane The Great Escape: Health, wealth, and the origins of inequality Angus Deaton Princeton University Press This article appeared in print under the headline “Pursuing happiness for all it’s worth” More on these topics: