Over the past few decades, teams of researchers have been studying happiness. Their work, which seemed flimsy at first, has developed an impressive rigor, and one of the key findings is that, just as the old sages predicted, worldly success has shallow roots while interpersonal bonds permeate through and through.
The overall impression from this research is that economic and professional success exists on the surface of life, and that they emerge out of interpersonal relationships, which are much deeper and more important.
The second impression is that most of us pay attention to the wrong things. Most people vastly overestimate the extent to which more money would improve our lives. Most schools and colleges spend too much time preparing students for careers and not enough preparing them to make social decisions. Most governments release a ton of data on economic trends but not enough on trust and other social conditions. In short, modern societies have developed vast institutions oriented around the things that are easy to count, not around the things that matter most.
Another key point in this happiness research that has stood out to me is the deleterious effects of a long commute (“The daily activity most injurious to happiness is commuting”; from a separate article which commented on the David Brooks article – “A person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40 percent more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office”). As I’m preparing to possibly move, this is something that I’m definitely keeping in mind.