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Monday, October 16, 2006
The affluence paradox
Readers of Christopher Shea's piece about the weak connections between a nation's wealth and its happiness might be interested in two important recent books that take up the subject. Chris writes that new research suggests that "the richest societies ... particularly America and Britain, have reached a point at which their wealth and growth are actually harming citizensí health and quality of life." That is the central argument of Peter Whybrow's book "American Mania." Whybrow, director of the Neuropsychiatric Institute at UCLA, writes that rising rates of stress, anxiety, depression, obesity, and time urgency are now grudgingly accepted as part of everyday life in the world's most affluent society. He grounds both our extraordinary achievements and our excessive consumption to an understanding of the biology of the brainís reward system.
Whybrow draws on the works of the prominent British economist Richard Layard, who published a book last year called "Happiness: Lessons from a New Science." Like Chris's article, Layard's book discusses the surprisingly loose correlation between a nation's wealth and its citizens' well-being. It also demonstrates that people from developed nations are no happier than they were 50 years ago, even though real incomes have more than doubled.