Thursday, February 16, 2006


Darrin McMahon's book, Happiness: A History receives a positive review by Jim Holt in the New York Times. McMahon had a key message about happiness in a NYTimes op-ed in December (I linked to it here):

"Those only are happy," [John Stuart Mill] came to believe, "who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way." For our own culture, steeped as it is in the relentless pursuit of personal pleasure and endless cheer, that message is worth heeding.

Staying on the trail of happiness, Forbes has articles by Tim Harford and Daniel Gilbert on the connections between happiness and other things, including money (hey, we are talking about Forbes here!) and . The relationship is, shall we say, not uncomplicated.

Both Oswald and Richard Layard argue that relationships are more important than money--and that includes professional relationships. "I've come to believe in the old-fashioned view that one should be tender in one's dealings with colleagues," Lord Layard told me in an interview. And what else? "Think about what you have rather than what you don't have, both materially and in your relationships and your personal strengths. To use the language of economics, don't try to rectify things that aren't your comparative advantage."

Daniel Gilbert:

For example, would you be happier working for Firm A, which will pay you $94,000 per year and pay others who do the same work $100,000, or for Firm B, which will pay you $89,000 and pay others $83,000?

The obvious answer is Firm A. After all, your bank account contains dollars that you can spend on groceries and vacations, and those dollars don't care what the guy in the next cubicle earns.

Alas, taking the job with the better salary may maximize your wealth, but it will in all likelihood minimize your happiness. Why? Because right now you are comparing one job with the other, and the job with the larger salary is appealing by comparison.