July 25, 2014

If Life Is Getting Better, Why Do People Feel Worse?

Quotes from:  The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse by Gregg Easterbrook.

The Problems

“A person needs food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, and transportation; once attained, these needs are fulfilled. Wants, by contrast, can never be satisfied. The more you want, the more likely you are to feel disgruntled; the more you acquire, the more likely you are to feel controlled by your own possessions.”

“Americans and Western Europeans live in mainly favorable conditions, yet are experiencing a sense of letdown, as many no longer can dream that the years to come will bring them significantly more than they already possess.”

“For at least a century, Western life has been dominated by a revolution of rising expectations: Each generation expected more than its antecedent. Now most Americans and Europeans already have what they need, in addition to considerable piles of stuff they don’t need.”

“Typically, regardless of how much money an American today earns, he or she estimates that twice as much is required to “live well.””

“As incomes rise, people stop thinking, “Does my house meet my needs?” and instead, “Is my house nicer than the neighbour’s?”

The Solutions

“Positive psychology finds that people who take a grateful attitude toward life, counting their blessings rather than inventorying their complaints, tend to be healthier, happier, and more successful than others.”

“New psychological research suggests it is in your self interest to be forgiving, grateful, and optimistic – that these presumptively altruistic qualities are actually essential to personal well-being.”

“Perhaps, at some structural level, for every old problem solved, a new problem will always be created, meaning we should not expect a better life to improve happiness.” 


  1. Our house is small, but paid for and we love it. Our income is small, but more than adequate. We have good health, good friends, plenty to eat and live in a place untroubled by typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes or other major natural disasters. Happy Saturday from Charlotte in the UK!

    1. CharlotteP,

      There is nothing better than a house that is paid for outright. It is a pleasure many will never achieve since a scary number of people expect their mortgages to extend past their life spans. And if a person has health, food, love and safety that is much more than about a billion or two of our brothers and sisters have. You are fortunate to be so sensible. Enjoy!


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