In an op-ed column entitled the "Great American Dream Machine," economists Stephen Moore and Lincoln Anderson take data from new Census Bureau and Federal Reserve Board reports on the well-being of American families and conclude that, over the past 30 years, "the vast majority of families have experienced a rapid growth in their income and wealth."
And, according to the column, "... it's not just the rich that are getting richer. Virtually every income group has been lifted by the tide of growth in recent decades." The percentage of American families earning less than $50,000 has dropped by almost 30 percent, and the number of families earning more than $75,000 has tripled.
Yet, despite the "dream machine," the headline of another nearby column laments "Americans Feel More Isolated Less Empowered, Poll Shows." According to the "Alienation index" constructed by the Harris Poll and monitored by them since the 1960s, more than half of Americans today, by measure of this index, are "alienated." This compares with 29 percent in 1966 when they started the survey.
But, don't quit your job yet. There's more to consider here.
Although there seems to be little correlation between material improvement and increased happiness, there are other factors that do correlate with feeling happier.
Easterbrook reports that behavior associated with forgiveness, gratitude and altruism increases an individual sense of happiness.
Psychological studies, reported by Arthur Brooks of Syracuse University, conclude that people "who donate to charity are 40percent more likely to say they are 'very happy' than nondonors." In fact, these studies show that donors of charity benefit more in well-being than the recipients.
So, Jefferson did not delude us by canonizing the pursuit of happiness as a pillar of American culture. Restlessness and dissatisfaction with the status quo are key to improving our lives and the world. An element of unhappiness drives us forward.
But happiness comes when the object of our pursuit goes beyond ourselves.
So, amid our annual holiday bantering and bickering, a truth does indeed emerge. It's in the giving and not in the getting. The bounty of heaven is there for those who serve their fellow man.
We Americans have so much for which to be grateful and so much to give. Let's keep our perspective on this.
That's the "reason for the season."
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.