__Abstract__\ud \ud One of the ideological foundations of the modern welfare states is the belief that\ud people can be made happier by providing them with better living conditions. This\ud belief is challenged by the idea that happiness tends to remain at the same level and\ud will therefore hardly change when living conditions improve. This counter intuitive\ud thought draws to two theories of happiness.\ud One theory holds that happiness is a fixed “trait,” rather than a variable “state.”\ud This theory figures both at the individual level and at the societal level. The\ud individual level variant depicts happiness as an aspect of personal character, rooted\ud in inborn temperament or acquired disposition and is commonly referred to as the\ud “set point” theory of happiness. The societal variant sees happiness as a matter of\ud national character, embedded in shared values and beliefs. This variant has been\ud called “folklore theory.” Both variants imply that a better society makes no happier\ud people.\ud The second theory holds that happiness is a matter of comparison and that\ud different standards of comparison are involved, such as described in Michalos\ud (1985) “ multiple discrepancies theory” of happiness. In that context it is then\ud assumed that standards tend to shift over time and that these shifts nullify the\ud effects of improvements in living conditions. This is seen to lead us in a “hedonic\ud treadmill,” where we remain equally happy subjectively in spite of progress in an\ud objective sense (e.g., Brickman & Campbell, 1971).\ud This idea of stable happiness figures in several discussions, one of which is the\ud debate on the value of economic growth. In that context the “ Easterlin Paradox” holds that average happiness in nations has remained at the same level over the last\ud decade in spite of constant economic growth (Easterlin, 1974)
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