Daniel Ben-Ami in Spiked Online:
Contemporary critics of consumerism and popular prosperity are obsessed with what they see as a paradox. A central theme of their arguments is that economic growth does not make people happier. In their view, the pursuit of mass affluence is at best futile and is probably responsible for making humanity miserable. Often the growth sceptics argue that the pursuit of material goods is akin to a disease: they say the developed world is suffering from ‘affluenza’ or ‘luxury fever’ (1). Typically they conclude we should not attempt to become richer and often they argue for the pursuit of alternative social goals such as mental well-being.
But there is reason to question whether breaking the connection between prosperity and happiness is the killer blow that the critics assume. The growth sceptics seem to ignore the possibility that greater affluence could be immensely beneficial even if it does not necessarily make people happier. Nor do they understand that the propensity for human beings to be unhappy with their lot could have a good side. The striving for a better life is an important motor force of progress. The arguments the happiness pundits advance to show that prosperity does not lead to enhanced well-being are also dubious. And the policies they often propose to make people happier tend to be authoritarian.