Alex Singleton makes a nice point:
We moan about modern Britain in a way that does not seem to scientifically correlate to how good – or bad – it is, empirically. Indeed, complaining is something of a national pastime and, ironically, something that people seem to enjoy.
Far from being a major problem, there is something virtuous about being unhappy with our present circumstances. Ludwig von Mises, one of the 20th century’s leading free-market economists, said (pdf) that to be happy with one’s existing condition: “and to abstain apathetically from any attempts to improve one’s own material conditions, is not a virtue. Such an attitude is rather animal behaviour than conduct of reasonable human beings.”
It is not the level of wealth that makes us happy. Instead, it is the process of betterment – the pursuit of it – that makes us happy. Whether we are twice as rich today as in 1971 has little bearing on our happiness, because it is in the past. Whether people can see their lives improving in the future is what counts. That is why economic growth remains a key component in happiness, despite what the happiness researchers might tell us.
There really is something wonderful about a place that keeps getting better. Those are the places most likely to already have it good, as a consequence of a history of improvement. But people are not driven to make things better for themselves because they are fully satisfied, but because they aren’t. Of course, happiness researchers do tell us that the level of wealth, and the growth that caused it, matters to happiness. Shall we then conclude that dissatisfaction, when harnessed to the institutions of wealth creation, is the source of its own reduction? Yes.