Economic Liberty Creates Happiness

As the The Pursuit of Happiness points out, simply being left alone to pursue happiness leads to contentment.

…the idea that the king was somehow interfering with Americans’ propensity to chase after bliss was a novel one at the time. No more. One of the notable changes in the world in recent decades is the spread of freedom, including the freedom of each person to pursue happiness as he or she conceives it.

Letting people do that, it turns out, actually makes them content….

So what is necessary to happiness?

Two things, it appears, are needed to increase the supply of happiness: freedom and money. As it happens, a substantial amount of freedom is crucial to the creation of wealth. There is no such thing as a rich totalitarian country, as even the onetime totalitarians in Beijing finally realized. So in a very real sense, freedom is the key to happiness.

The survey, by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, involved asking people in 97 countries two simple questions: “Taking all things together, would you say you are very happy, rather happy, not very happy or not at all happy?” and “All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?”

What the researchers found is that in the 52 countries where the poll has been done over the last couple of decades, the percentage of people giving upbeat answers rose in 40. Among the places where smiles have been spreading are such developing countries as China and India, which have grown freer as well as more prosperous.

The same has occurred in much of the advanced world as well, including the United States, France, Canada, Denmark, and Japan. Only four countries (Austria, Belgium, Britain, and Germany) have gotten less happy since the pre-1981 era. They are all free as well as rich, which suggests those two factors are necessary but not sufficient for people to count their blessings.

And what of government?

The 18th-century English writer Samuel Johnson wrote, “How small, of all that human hearts endure, that part which laws or kings can cause or cure.” The people who wrote the Declaration of Independence, by contrast, understood that if you want to be happy, it helps to have a decent government and a free society.

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