If one was to judge by sheer wealth, the last half-century should have been an ecstatically happy time for people in the US and other rich nations such as Canada, Japan and Great Britain. And yet the boom decades of the late 20th century were not accompanied by a boom in wellbeing. The British got richer by more than 40% between 1993 and 2012, but the rate of psychiatric disorders and neuroses grew.
Just before the crash of 2008, a team of Italian economists, led by Stefano Bartolini, tried to account for that seemingly inexplicable gap between rising income and flatlining happiness in the US. The Italians tried removing various components of economic and social data from their models, and found that the only factor powerful enough to hold down people’s self-reported happiness in the face of all that wealth was the country’s declining social capital: the social networks and interactions that keep us connected with others. It was even more corrosive than the income gap between rich and poor.
As much as we complain about other people, there is nothing worse for mental health than a social desert. The more connected we are to family and community, the less likely we are to experience heart attacks, strokes, cancer and depression. Connected people sleep better at night. They live longer. They consistently report being happier.
The proposed solution in this article isn’t what I originally thought.