Are We Too Pessimistic About Happiness?

I was diddling around with some stuff after reading that New Zealand will henceforth be prioritizing happiness—“well-being and life satisfaction”—over economic growth, and came across this scatterplot about perceived happiness vs. actual happiness:

In every single country, the average estimate of happiness is far lower than actual reported happiness. Every single country! In the US, 90% of people say they’re happy, but the average guess is that only 50 percent of people say they’re happy. Is this because:

  1. We are really lousy at estimating the happiness of others?
  2. We implicitly assume that poor people must be unhappy, and there are a lot of poor people?


  1. People lie a lot (or delude themselves) about how happy they are when pollsters ask?

My guess is that it’s a lot of (a) and a little bit of (c).


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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