Friday, January 02, 2009

On Unhappiness

I've been lucky. I've never been really destitute, although there have been times, like now, where I've had to eat a lot of beans. My credit has gone from bad to good to back to bad again.

But what I'm facing right now is like no other time, ever. After my disability forced me to stop working as a stagehand, I had some money saved, cashed the 401k, and managed to move out of Los Angeles and up here to upstage upstate NY, where it's cheap and we have family. I was managing to pay the bills with the small income I got from my internet marketing business.

That's all changed now. The savings are all gone. The business is drying up as this economy forces my clients to cut back, and keeps new ones from stepping up. The credit is maxed out and ruined, the bills are stacking up, cut-off notices are coming in, and the only money on the horizon isn't until a possible settlement or court decision in my worker's comp case back in California.

So, when I hear people talk about how Americans are still pretty happy, or that money can't buy happiness, or that everything's going to be OK if you just believe it, I just want to say, bullshit.

And it's not just me. Americans in general just aren't feeling the love right now. In a post about the state of happiness in the US, Freakonomics blogger Justin Wolfers goes over the evidence that this is a very unhappy time in America.

We’re still happy? No way. Life satisfaction has plummeted during the recession.

And all that crap about money not buying happiness, or money not making people any happier past a certain cut-off point. Also bullshit. Besides the obvious, I mean, sure, there are unhappy billionaires, but show me happy starving people... If you really look into the economic data, it seems that the richer you are, the happier you are.

Is that really a surprise?

I'm more interested in the down side. How unhappy do you get as they money dries up? How unhappy are the hungry and the homeless compared to those who are still, albeit just barely, getting by? How low can you go before your heart breaks, your will caves in, and you just give up?

This all is, of course, quite subjective, but we do have sociological studies into this. In these trying times, perhaps it would be a good idea to really study unhappiness, it's effects on people's health and behavior (crime rates are going up), and find ways that we can help people who are, like I am, at their wit's end.

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