As society gets richer, people chase the wrong things. One of the greatest paradoxes in American life is that while, on average, existence has gotten more comfortable over time, happiness has fallen. The Atlantic reports:
According to the United States Census Bureau, average household income in the U.S., adjusted for inflation, was higher in 2019 than has ever been recorded for every income quintile. And although income inequality has risen, this has not been mirrored by inequality in the consumption of goods and services. For example, from 2008 to 2019, households in the lowest income quintile increased spending on eating out by an average of about 22 percent after correcting for inflation; the top quintile increased spending on eating out by an average of just under 8 percent. Meanwhile, domestic government services have increased significantly: For example, federal spending on education, training, employment, and social services increased from 2000 to 2019 by about 30 percent in inflation-adjusted terms.
New American homes in 2016 were 1,000 square feet larger than in 1973 and living space per person, on average, has nearly doubled. The number of Americans who use the internet increased from 52 to 90 percent from 2000 to 2019. The percentage who use social media grew from 5 to 72 percent from 2005 to 2019.
But amid these advances in quality of life across the income scale, average happiness is decreasing in the U.S. The General Social Survey, which has been measuring social trends among Americans every one or two years since 1972, shows a long-term, gradual decline in happiness—and rise in unhappiness—from 1988 to the present.