WASHINGTON (CBSDC)– Researchers are investigating whether an increase in material wealth correlates with an increase in permanent happiness over time.
CBS News reports that individuals each have a happiness “set point” and that while we can temporarily move from that point depending on positive and negative experiences, we eventually return to this innate level of happiness.
Recent research from Vox EU, which publishes research-based policy analysis and commentary from leading economists, indicates that though median wealth and living standards have increased over time, an increase in happiness has not.
“The enhancement of material well-being should have made human beings many orders of magnitude happier today than they were at the time of Aristotle. Existing evidence indicates, however, that happiness has not really increased over time,” the researchers explain.
Economists and study authors Sebastian Galiani, Paul Gertler and Raimundo Undurraga tested this notion by using housing project data from poor areas in El Salvador, Mexico and Uruguay. The housing projects were a significant improvement compared to existing conditions in the impoverished areas.
Families who received the improved housing, which authors note was very basic, were interviewed 16 months later. Researchers found that there was an initial increase in happiness when looking at the baseline level. However, when analyzing long-term happiness it appeared that 60 percent of the happiness increase diminished after two years of living in the new homes.
Further research showed that satisfaction decreased over time when looking at other measures of increased well-being, like floor quality and rain protection.
The study doesn’t evaluate whether happiness continues to decrease over time, but the results do suggest that a relative stable level of happiness over time is common human behavior, regardless of positive or negative events or life changes, for rich and poor alike.
“Variations in happiness and unhappiness are merely short-lived reactions to changes in people’s circumstances. In other words, while people initially have strong reactions to events that change their material level of well-being, they eventually return to a baseline level of life satisfaction that is determined by their inborn temperament,” the study notes.