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The Paradox of Modern Happiness: Wealth, Comparison, and Depression


Happiness seems most elusive in today’s times. Despite that fact that people have more wealth, health, better homes, and more clothes, surveys conducted in Japan, the US, continental Europe, or Britain have revealed that they are not happy.

What is happiness? According to the author (Layard, nd), happiness is feeling “good” and being content and satisfied about life. Unhappiness, on the contrary, is feeling “bad” and wishing things were much better.


Depression, a serious medical condition, is fast becoming common today. Surveys indicate that about 29% of women in 2000 revealed that they were depressed as compared to only 16% of women in 1982 who admitted that they were depressed. Thus, though our material possessions have increased, depression rates have nevertheless gone up.

Further, an average American, who has income levels above the breadline, does not become happy with an income increase and is found to be less happy than an Icelander or Dane who is poorer than him.

The author (Layard, nd) also finds that comparing your own wages with others in the family and friends circle seem to make you more ambitious and unhappy. Women compare with men over salaries and East Germans compare themselves with West Germans over salaries, and the result is that this comparison leads to great unhappiness amongst individuals.

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Thus, “pollution” by others is a scenario in which people get hurt when others’ salaries go up. As a conclusion , the author (Layard, nd) points out that earning high is not going to bring about happiness, but increasing the incentives, such as by way of taxes, to earn higher may well translate into greater efforts poured in to make that big money and, therefore, lead to contentment.


  • Layard, R. (nd), The secrets of happiness, 369-371.

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