The Happiness Paradox

Happiness is a popular subject these days. Books, magazines, current affair programs & even films are analysing the subject like never before. The study of happiness is nothing new. Since recorded history, man has attempted to understand this seemingly elusive state, with discourses from Plato, Socrates, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed & countless others outlining what they thought were the principles & conditions leading to a happy life.

The Growth of Prosperity.

Since 1957 the Growth Domestic Product (GDP) per person has risen 300%. Houses today (2007) are on average twice the size of those our parents (or grandparents) lived in, in 1957.

Two cars (at least), two television sets (at least), commonly including large plasma or LCD screens & home theatre systems, an investment property & overseas holidays are now commonly seen in many families in the western world. Higher disposable incomes, more electronic toys & more labor-saving devices are more common now.

We have easier access to government welfare, greater emphasis on health care, better consumer protection & instant communication via mobile phones & internet.

Society has seen greater sexual freedom ( the contraceptive pill) & less victimisation of minority groups. Women have been liberated ??!! since the 60’s revolution, to the point where we now might soon see for the first time ever a female American president.

In Australia, the combination of unemployment & inflation, called the misery index, has been declining for the last 20 years. .

From the economic & equality standpoint, we have never had it so good. Conventional wisdom has been that as these markers rise, our happiness should correspondingly rise. Study after study has shown that this is NOT the case. Our Gross National Happiness (GNH) has remained the same or fallen over the past 50 years, despite our increasing affluence & comfort.

This is what is called the Happiness Paradox! It is also the subject of Clive Hamilton’s thought-provoking book ‘Affluenza’.

Most people cling to the belief that more money means more happiness, says Hamilton.

The only time that increasing income & greater happiness rise correspondingly is when incomes rise from a poverty level to a basic level. In the USA this basic level has been found to be $15,000 per annum. Once this level is reached then more income, wealth & material possessions do not see noticeable differences in happiness levels.

A while ago I attended a two day conference in Sydney titled  Happiness & its Causes with dozens of guest speakers, including the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama. The same theme emerged here. Every speaker confirmed what we already knew with the age-old saying: money can’t buy happiness.

So what do we do in order to become happier, have greater peace of mind & lasting contentment? Do we eschew economic advancement & renounce our way of living as we now know it?

Or do we keep up the belief that the more we earn, acquire & invest the happier we will be? The more superannuation, the more happiness?

At my clinic I have seen countless people over the years suffering from chronic unhappiness. There have been many wealthy people who have been deeply unhappy. I have also witnessed financially poor people very unhappy. Conversely, I have consulted many wealthy people who were happy, deeply contented & well-adjusted & many low-income earners who displayed the same qualities.

Similarly with health. There are those with money who have excellent health & those with little finance who also enjoy high-level health. Again there are those who have lots of money but poor health & those who are broke whose health is also broken.


Most people believe that, as with money & happiness, more of the former will also mean greater health. We are continually hearing from opposition politicians, doctors, researchers, medical foundations & special interest groups that we need more funding for more hospitals, improved medical technology, more & better drugs & wider health services. It is widely publicised that the only way to conquer cancer & all the other diseases is through more money, raised through government spending & public awareness drives.The last 20 years has seen more money spent on supposed health care than in all previous years combined. In 1971, President Nixon in America declared war on cancer!Almost unlimited funds were channelled into cancer research & treatment.

America spends more money per capita on medical care ( health care), has the most advanced medical technology in the world & more money is spent on research in the States than anywhere else. There are more drugs available to consumers in the States where these drugs are even advertised direct to the consumer (DTC). Americans pop more pills per capita than any other people & these pills are the result of the belief that more money means more health.

In other words there is a widespread belief that the more capital growth & productivity there is & the more of this that is channelled into medical technology, the happier & healthier we will all be.

Just as happiness does not rise with increased income over a basic level, health also does not. In fact, once a certain point is reached in health care expenditure, more emphasis on drugs & technology means LESS health.

The situation in the States bears this out. America has one of the worst infant mortality rates amongst developed nations. Life expectancy lags behind many other countries & the rates of most major diseases are higher there than most developed countries where much less is spent per capita on health care. The States is one of the most medically regulated countries in the world, with the FDA ( Food & Drug Administration ) & the CDC ( Centres for Disease Control) ostensibly safeguarding public health & ensuring that the money invested is money well spent. Then how can it be that America is the obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease & depression capital of the world?

Here are some thoughts on the Wealth & Health Paradoxes, gleaned from my experience dealing with countless patients over the past 24 years, my own personal happiness/health experiences & almost a life-time of study on these issues.


Many people confuse pleasure with happiness. They are different. Pleasure is temporary & sensual. Happiness is permanent & spiritual. Happiness cannot be caused as it is a quality we are all born with. We then proceed in our lives to CAUSE unhappiness.

To regain our inner happiness, we need to remove those things that are blocking us. Take off the layers that smother our true inner contentment.

Outside-in is NOT what confers happiness. Winning the lottery or buying a new car or a new mansion , marrying the prettiest person or having the brightest kids, getting the much sought-after promotion- these things are outside or external. Sure, they can confer pleasure but it is never lasting. Enough becomes a moving target. We at some point adapt to these externals & set our sights on more or bigger things. We are never satisfied.

Inside-out is where happiness resides. It starts inside. If it is sought from outside then the inner spirit is often neglected. The seed of happiness is within us all but it does not blossom if we search for it in the external world. Money is neither the cause of happiness or the root of all evil. Money is neutral. It can’t make us happy or unhappy. It’s our perception of its worth & value that is important. It’s our attachment to it that blocks us. When we let our egos attach too strongly to certain external things, we run into trouble. We find we might be working extra long hours chasing the money or promotion, becoming obsessed with some THING or continually comparing our assets to others- this is when we gradually lose ourselves. Remember self-worth is NOT net-worth!

We allow our happiness to flourish when we first honour our own basic needs. This requires some thought & reflection, which is best done in silence, stillness & solitude. Here are 7 ways to help manifest our inner happiness:

1) Become as healthy as you can be. This requires discipline in eating, drinking & our personal daily behaviours. There are a few rare people who can be blissfully happy even when chronically sick or in pain, but most people don’t fall into that category. Become gradually aware of the relationship between what you eat & drink & how you feel. Avoid taking drugs daily which alter your mood or energy levels. These include alcohol, tea, coffee, cigarettes, recreational drugs & stimulants.

2) Avoid soldiering on- don’t habitually push yourself. Question any tendencies you might have towards perfectionism, as this leads to a chronic feeling of unfulfillment.

3) Walk, run, swim, garden, row, dance, ride, climb, lift, bend, skip, jump- do whatever you like doing but move regularly.

4) Get adequate sleep & rest.

5) Have quiet time daily-meditating, praying, just being still & quiet.

6) Develop goodwill to others- wish the best for them, compliment people sincerely for something you admire, encourage people. Apart from being the right thing to do, it also adds to your own inner peace & happiness: The fragrance of the rose lingers on the hand that gives it.

7) Accept the fact that the only thing you have total control over is your attitude. Everything else is never 100% under our own control. Understanding & accepting this is like lifting a weight off our shoulders.

Don’t Spend Too Much Happiness Earning Your Money

What was I Losing With All the Gaining?

Don’t Pay for your Wealth with Your Health

We spend our Time Earning our Money & then we spend our Money earning our time.

Comments are closed.