Say you are driving your child to school, and I cut you off in traffic (dead annoying). If you say ‘Men drivers – all the bxxx same” then your child has learned that this problem is pervasive (all men) and permanent (no hope).
If you say ‘Agh, I wonder what is wrong with that guy today?’ then your child has learned this is a temporary problem (today) and limited to one man (me).
Discourse like this goes on all the time – in offices, families, parties and in the street. Our chatter and its meaning is so ever-present, it often becomes submerged below awareness as explanatory style. But this soup we swim in it affects us.
It is easy enough to create a culture of depression. As humans we seem to be experts. Even when our natural skills in this seem to fail us we can call up ancient as well as modern manuals. Most cultures have norms and sayings that warn against too much enjoyment or success — they are like safety valves. They protect us from too much hope. I can’t blame us; sorrow, pain and death are unavoidable in life.
But, we have to be aware of the unintended effects of negative discourse. We should stop passively swimming in our soup and step forward as cooks in the kitchen. Intentionally, we can flavor life with appreciation.
Enjoy making your own soup!
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The answer to the question posed in the title is ‘yes.’ Using a total of 128,106 answers to a survey question about happiness,’ we find that there is a large, negative and significant effect of inequality on happiness in Europe but not in the US. There are two potential explanations. First, Europeans prefer more equal societies (inequality belongs in the utility function for Europeans but not for Americans). Second, social mobility is (or is perceived to be) higher in the US so being poor is not seen as affecting future income. We test these hypotheses by partitioning the sample across income and ideological lines. There is evidence of inequality generated’ unhappiness in the US only for a sub-group of rich leftists. In Europe inequality makes the poor unhappy, as well as the leftists. This favors the hypothesis that inequality affects European happiness because of their lower social mobility (since no preference for equality exists amongst the rich or the right). The results help explain the greater popular demand for government to fight inequality in Europe relative to the US.
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