Alleviating Misery, Promoting Happiness

In Archives, Uncategorized on February 8, 2011 at 12:00 pm

In recent history, the societies that have been best at alleviating misery have been among the worst at promoting happiness. The converse is also true.

Recent technological and social advances brought largely by the West have vastly reduced acute suffering—curing treatable illnesses, alleviating extreme poverty, reforming predatory governments and unjust social institutions—but have left intact or even exacerbated the fundamental doubts, insecurities, and lonelinesses that can make life basically unhappy. Conversely, the societies that report the highest levels of general happiness are also often the poorest, and the most vulnerable to every type of acute misery.

Obviously, the question is whether future societies can combine happiness and freedom from misery. That will take movement in both directions: “development” is conventionally about extending prosperity to poorer countries, but the countries that currently hold power can also hope to “develop” by listening a lot more seriously to the basic wisdom underpinning life in the happiest societies.

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