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Well-being: the absence of pain

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Economist Betsey Stevenson explains why higher rates of consumption don’t necessarily increase a country’s well-being: Edmond Terakopian ASSOCIATED PRESS Joanna Choukeir shows some of the cards from a DIY Happiness card game, at the launch of "Action For Happiness" in London.

We do find that richer countries have higher average wellbeing. But it’s not clear that it is directly due to consumption. In fact, the Gallup data lets us look at other very specific metrics of wellbeing. What you see is that in richer countries, people are less likely to experience pain in their day. That may be because of consumption; they may be consuming more aspirin. But it may also be because they have a choice as to whether to do more or less backbreaking work, and economic progress gives them a greater ability to pursue lives that will incur less pain.
You also see that in richer countries, people are more likely to have choice over how they spend their day. They’re more likely to say that they’re treated with respect in their day. Also, the likelihood of people saying that they had good-tasting food to eat rises steeply with income in the country. So the basics of everyday life seem also to be correlated -- it isn’t just “the richer I am, the more shoes I own.” That kind of consumption doesn’t necessarily correlate with wellbeing. It may, but it’s not the whole story.

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