17 de mayo de 2010

La economía y la felicidad

La semana pasada, el presidente de la Reserva Federal, Ben Bernanke, ofeció un discurso en relación a los principios económicos que explican la felicidad. Una de las mayores aportaciones del discurso es presentar, de manera clara y resumida, lo que algunos han llamado 'the economics of happiness', que es un tópico de interés reciente entre una cantidad importante de académicos y estudiantes de economía.

Aquí algunos de los párrafos más importantes:

    • Why talk about happiness? Well, it's right there in the mission statement of the United States, the Declaration of Independence: The inalienable rights of Americans are "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

    • As you might guess, when thinking about the sources of psychological well-being, economists have tended to focus on the material things of life. This proclivity is why economic policymakers often emphasize the promotion of economic growth. The richer a country is, the higher the material standard of living of its average person. What applies to a country applies to individuals: Higher income equals a higher standard of living, which most people desire.

    • Ultimately, what makes us happy? What makes our lives satisfying in the long run? And, more subtly, how is the state of mind we call happiness, at least as social scientists define the term, related to our long-run life satisfaction? We can look inward for answers, but, at least for someone trained as a social scientist, the most direct way to tackle the question is just to go out and ask people--lots of people.

    • There is now a field of study, complete with doctoral dissertations and professorships, called "the economics of happiness." The idea is that by measuring the self-reported happiness of people around the world, and then correlating those results with economic, social, and personal characteristics and behavior, we can learn directly what factors contribute to happiness.

    • Happy people tend to spend time with friends and family and put emphasis on social and community relationships. We are social creatures. Research has demonstrated that happiness and life satisfaction are perhaps more closely related to participating meaningfully in a network of friends, family, and community than any other factor.

    • Another factor in happiness, perhaps less obvious, is based on the concept of "flow." When you are working, studying, or pursuing a hobby, do you sometimes become so engrossed in what you are doing that you totally lose track of time? That feeling is called flow. If you never have that feeling, you should find some new activities--whether work or hobbies.

    • Another finding is that happy people feel in control of their own lives. A sense of control can be obtained by actively setting goals that are both challenging and achievable.

    • Finally--and this is one of the most intriguing findings--happiness can be promoted by fighting the natural human tendency to become entirely adapted to your circumstances. One interesting practical suggestion is to keep a "gratitude journal," in which you routinely list experiences and circumstances for which you are grateful. Devices like gratitude journals help people remain aware of the fortunate aspects of their lives, offsetting the natural human tendency to take those things for granted after a while.

    • The story points out that, sometimes, happiness is nature's way of telling us we are doing the right thing. True. But, by the same token, ephemeral feelings of happiness are not always reliable indicators we are on the right path. Ultimately, life satisfaction requires more than just happiness. Sometimes, difficult choices can open the doors to future opportunities, and the short-run pain can be worth the long-run gain.

El discurso se ofreció en el marco de la graduación de la generación saliente de la Universidad de Carolina del Sur.