The happiness gap narrows


The recession has more and more people seeking help for depression but, over time, increased wealth has not led to a happier society. From 1972 to 2006, Americans did not make any measurable improvement in happiness even as incomes rose, according to data collected by the University of Chicago. Some saw this as a result of a widening gap between the rich and the poor: The rich were getting richer and happier and the poor were getting poorer and more miserable.

But new research conduced by University of Pennsylvania economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers found that during period, the "happiness gap" actually shrunk: More and more people are clustered around the middle of "feeling all right" and the gap between the happy and the unhappy is shrinking.

"Americans are becoming more similar to each other in terms of reported happiness," Stevenson said in a press release. "It's an interesting finding because other research shows increasing gaps in income, consumption and leisure time."

Perhaps the guilt that comes with receiving eight-figure bonuses while driving a company off a cliff limits the happiness-enhancing power of that wealth. It also may be that advances in technology allow lower middle-income people to enjoy diversions that past generations of non-rich people didn't have access to. If you're unemployed but have access to PerezHilton and Hulu, you may find yourself quite happy.