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How Our Well-Being and Wealth Quickly Part Company

Essay by   •  July 15, 2013  •  Research Paper  •  2,767 Words (12 Pages)  •  634 Views

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Well-being can be defined as a state of physical, mental and social wellness; those who subjectively report a high well-being live their lives in a way which equips them to realize their full potential of capabilities, while overcoming and compensating for any weaknesses (Villegas, Quality of Life in Canada, January 30th, 2013). Well-being however, is vulnerable to change as a result of objective forces and conditions of society also in accordance with the conductors of the body of research. When measuring a society's Quality of Life, the focus of the research is swayed depending on the scope of the lens in use. Although it may not always be the case, both personal and communal circumstances must be taken into account in order to gauge a comprehensive measure of well-being. An important tension to be aware of while conducting Quality of Life research is the production to distribution of well-being (Villegas, Intellectual History, January 23rd, 2013). This tension entails the discussion of how to measure the time in which production of resources with the potential to better individual well-being can lead to an objective, observable, measurable increase. Questions of knowledge production and methodology surely arise when examining the manner in which individual Quality of Life is affected through innovations by society; while quality of life may look to improve the individual or common good, who defines what that "good" looks like is also an important facet to consider. Quality of life measures are subjective to a certain extent in that what each individual values and prioritizes as important and influential to their overall well-being is subject to change historically and culturally. Furthermore, the production and distribution of resources is a question of morality and social justice; some people have access to resources that are unattainable for others. Therefore it is important to note early on that what society regards as general well-being is flawed as it is extremely difficult to encompass what each individuals deems important to their personal quality of life in a comprehensive definition.

Wealth is a resource of society, where one has an abundance of material possessions and resources, which is susceptible to the disparities of production and distribution. Again the definition of wealth can encompass any number of measures subject to variability in accordance with individual subjective importance; however in this context it embraces mainly a profusion of monetary resources. It has long been a widely held belief that a higher income and an accumulation of wealth is the road to take for securing happiness and overall personal well-being. The purpose of this paper is to refute this stance using theoretical and empirical backing by taking the stance of psychologist Tim Kasser in his book "The High Price of materialism"; which focuses on how the pursuit of higher incomes and thus an accumulation of surplus goods to satisfy society's ceaseless need for material wealth can result in a decreasing subjective well-being. Presenting a theoretical framework and practical findings to support a rebuttal towards accumulation of wealth increasing happiness and well-being will result in an implication that changes in policy are necessary and should be imminent. The negative relationship between increasing wealth and life satisfaction is to be reflected upon next, after which alternative and more suitable measures for well-being will be discussed.

Misrepresentative Policies

Governmental policies currently focus heavily on economic outcomes as indicators for well-being although they often mislead what society values. Using measures such as Gross Domestic Product are ineffective is evaluating a nation's well-being let alone individual life satisfaction because it was never intended for such a purpose. GDP's inventor Simon Kusnetz said "The welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income as defined by the GDP" (Nevarez, 2); the anticipated purpose was to measure the value of all goods and services produced in a country in a given year (Nevarez, 2). Therefore, measurement tactics that utilize GDP for attempting to capture a nation's well-being clearly overlook variables that are important to the quality of life of its citizens. Economic indicators of well-being have definite shortcomings; for example, although it is evident economic output has risen dramatically over the past decades, increases in life satisfaction during this period have been minimal in comparison (Diener et al, 2). Such a finding leads to the argument that economic indicators for measuring well-being were more accurate in Canada's early stages of economic development when the fulfillment of basic needs was the main concern (Diener et al, 12). As our nation acquires economic wealth, using measures of national and individual income as indicators for well-being becomes increasingly obsolete.

In a study conducted by the Human Rights Statistics comparing GDP and individual happiness found a curvilinear relationship between the two variables; more income did result in more happiness but less so at high levels of income than at low level. These findings give light to a theoretical framework important in the discussion of the negative relationship between increasing wealth and life satisfaction

Theoretical framework in support of policy change

Noted economist and Professor Richard Easterlin put forth substantial theoretical and accompanying empirical work examining the impact increasing income has on happiness. From his studies and research he has proposed his take on the subject matter, now regarded as The Easterlin Paradox. In his 1974 paper "Does Economic Growth Improve the Human Lot? Some Empirical Evidence" Easterlin conducts a study examining empirical evidence by "gathering the results of human happiness surveys" (Easterlin, 94) conducted in 19 developing and developed countries to analyze evidence if any in support of or to debunk a relationship between increase wealth and happiness. He firstly found "between these countries mean happiness does not correlate much with per capita GDP" (Easterlin, 117). This finding confirms using and examining gross domestic product of a nation is inaccurate in postulating a general well-being measurement. A secondary finding resulting from Easterlin's work is "within these countries there is no increase in happiness over time despite demonstrable economic growth' (Easterlin, 118) validating the assertion that governmental policy promoting economic growth fails to yield increases in life satisfaction as is so thoroughly endorsed by its supporters.

The Easterlin Paradox was created as a result of such noteworthy findings and it suggests

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