In the 20th century, Americans, Europeans, and East Asians enjoyed material and technological advances that were unimaginable in previous eras. In theUnited States, for instance, gross domestic product per capita tripled from 1950 to 2000. Life expectancy soared. The benefits of capitalism spread more widely among thepopulation. The boom in productivity after World War II made goods better and cheaper at the same time. Things that were once luxuries, such as jet travel and long-distance phonecalls, became necessities.
Oddly, though, if you ask Americans how happy they are, you find that theyre no happier than they were in 1946 (which is when formal surveys ofhappiness started). In fact, the percentage of people who say theyre very happy has fallen slightly since the early 1970s -- even though the income of people born in 1940 has increased,on average, 116 percent over the course of their working lives. Nor is this a uniquely American phenomenon: you can find similar data for most developed countries.
The WorldValues Survey has been attempting to quantify human happiness in relation to cultural and economic factors since 1981. The data shows a clear link between technological progressand wealth on the one hand, and human happiness on the other: rich countries are happier than poor countries. The relationship, however, is curvolinear-- once a certainthreshold is reached (approximately $10,000 USD), the curve levels off and, in many cases, the level of happiness in fact begins to drop19. In other words, once we feel assured of basicsurvival, happiness no longer depends on technology or wealth, but rather on other factors, presumably family and community engagement, personal accomplishment, and so on.