The best of times, the worst of times


Historically, American happiness nose-dives in tandem with economic downturns. But despite the recession, current indicators paradoxically show that Americans are, right now, quite happy indeed. Although happiness spiked downward with last fall’s market drop, by this summer, it was at an all-time high. Americans are more optimistic about their health, well-being, and finances than a year ago, and plan to have a merrier Christmas this year, though they will spend less money. Why?

According to this essay, as the American Dream became more and more exaggerated — big cars, huge homes, gigantic TVs and ever-evolving tech — “Expectation Inflation” set in. But our ballooning concept of the middle-class lifestyle has become unsustainable, to the relief of many Americans, who are learning the highest return on happiness comes from the causes they believe in and making others happy. To explore happiness further, check out Barry Schwartz’s talk on the paradox of choice, Dan Gilbert’s talks on our mistaken expectations and why we are happy, and Benjamin Wallace’s talk on the price of happiness.