The future of happiness - technology leads the way

April 23 2008 / by futuretalk
Category: Other   Year: General   Rating: 10 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

In the 20th century, people enjoyed material and technological advances that were unimaginable in previous eras. In the US, for instance, gross domestic product per capita tripled from 1950 to 2000. Life expectancy soared and benefits of capitalism spread everywhere.

By most standards one would have to say that Americans are better off now than they were 62 years ago. However, if you ask people today how happy they are, you find that they are no happier than they were in 1946 when formal surveys of happiness first began.

Life has even become worse for some. Since the 1950s, clinical depression has increased tenfold, and today, people are more anxious, trust government and business less, and get divorced more often.

Does money make people happier? Economists Bruno Frey and Alois Stutzer found no correlation between income and happiness. We know that the hungry poor are miserable and they are less so with more money, but happiness does not increase after a certain level of income. Richard Layard, a British economist calculated that $15,000 per-year was the threshold; earning more than that added new worries and did not increase happiness.

However, some technologies like healthcare, contribute much to our happiness. Before the Industrial Revolution two of every three Europeans died before the age of 30. Today, life expectancy has climbed past 80 and people are glad to be alive; the longer they live in good health, the happier they feel they are.

This explains the growing public interest in futuristic medical technologies such as stem cell research and genetic engineering, which scientists hope will soon replace old and worn out hearts, bones, muscles, and skin; and nanotech miracles that promise to eliminate aging. These technologies promise a healthier and happier life. (cont.)

The Internet can also promote happiness. Social scientist Robert Putnam says, “Unlike television, which is one of the greatest sources of unhappiness because it is often a solitary activity without chance for social interaction, the Internet, with its ability to help people make new connections that they could meet in real life, is very positive and can create happiness”.

Almost two-thirds of all adults now log on to the web where they can send instant messages and emails to friends. Cyber relationships tend to evoke happiness from both parties, and occasionally results in face-to-face encounters that create enduring friendships.

By 2015, virtual reality will turn the Internet into a holographic world. We will capture images of friends and relatives from thousands of miles away and project lifelike replicas in our homes that are indiscernible from reality. We could organize virtual get-togethers for any happy occasion. People would kiss, hug and reminisce as if everyone was in the same room.

Finally, futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts that by 2030, technology will enable us to process thoughts millions of times faster than today. With faster thinking, we can develop an idea or face a situation, and immediately run thousands of ‘what-if’ simulations in our mind, ensuring a correct decision – always. This ability to never make mistakes will enhance our peace of mind and happiness.

So, as we go forward into this ‘magical future’, will technology make us happier? Experts say it will!

What do you think will give you the most lasting happiness in your life?

or Show Results

Comment Thread (8 Responses)

  1. I think the technology to make us happier is a lot closer than even this article would indicate.

    Unfortunately, it could be extremely dangerous.

    Happiness is ultimately determined by the state of our neurons, etc., right? Up to this point in history, this has been largely outside our direct control, and for good reason—happiness and pain are evolution’s reward and punishment system for steering us toward worthwhile behavior.

    But within twenty years, I’d say, we should be able to directly control a lot of the important stuff going on in those neurons. Feeling blue? Take a “happy pill” and it will all go away as those joy-inducing neurotransmitters get pumped across at super-speed. Your problems will remain, but your brain will be out of the loop temporarily.

    Let’s say we perfect this “on demand” happiness solution, making it cheap and with negligible/correctable side effects.

    Bypassing the natural reward/punishment system in this manner would seem dangerous. Without a correlation between our actions in the real world and the consequence of feeling good or bad, our life motivations and the direction of societal advance could be thrown into chaos. I guess before we got to that point we’d have to step in and place strict limits on the use of happy pills…we could be in for a rather wacky magical future.

    Posted by: gremlinn   April 23, 2008
    Vote for this comment - Recommend

  2. Gremlinn, you made excellent comments.

    It does sound logical that the state of our neurons dictate our emotions – whether we are sad, angry, happy, etc. – and yes, this system undoubtedly surfaced as humans were evolving, in order to steer us towards behavior that would help us survive.

    And the Kurzweil view that in the future, late 2020s, 2030s, we will instruct nanobots to alter our neurons and create virtual reality simulations indiscernible from reality, will undoubtedly affect happiness.

    Institute for Molecular Manufacturing’s Senior Research Fellow Robert Freitas takes virtual reality systems even further; he predicts that by mid-century, humans will spend more time in simulated worlds than reality. I do not think this assumption is correct; I believe that the real world will always offer stronger challenges.

    Much of the unknown about emotions will be revealed when science unravels the mysteries of consciousness, which some believe will happen around 2020, with the development of quantum computing.

    Once consciousness is understood – how quadrillions of interactions between neurons give rise to awareness, emotions, and personal identity – researchers could then program human consciousness into machines for further study. This science promises to impact our future more than any endeavor humanity has ever attempted.

    Comments welcome.

    Posted by: futuretalk   April 23, 2008
    Vote for this comment - Recommend

  3. A NY Times article released just last week refers to a new study that seemingly contradicts the notion that money / progress ( source Cory Ondrejka ’s blog) doesn’t make us happier. If that ends up being the case, it will have huge ramifications for the morality of technology/econonomic progress, transhumanism, etc, as it would mean that happiness depends more on environment than previously thought.

    Furthermore, the notion that the habituation processes of the brain can (potentially) be overcome by environment rather than direct neural manipulation would mean that we have two distinct roads (or a third if we combine them) to increased happiness.

    Of course, much more research must be done to get to the bottom of the new findings. Perhaps they will prove a fluke. But if not, and there’s some fundamental truth to economics/progress/status resulting in more happiness, then we’ve opened a whole new can of worms.

    Posted by: Alvis Brigis   April 23, 2008
    Vote for this comment - Recommend

  4. Alvis, thanks for the NY Times article link; I hadn’t seen this before. The article refers to a rebuttal presented recently by Brookings Institution economists where they criticize a 1974 report by University of Pennsylvania’s Richard Easterlin, who argued that economic growth didn’t necessarily lead to more satisfaction (the Easterlin report was not included in my Future of Happiness piece).

    In the Brookings rebuttal report, Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers argue that money can bring happiness, even if it doesn’t guarantee it.

    But Easterlin thinks his original findings are correct. He said that wealth may not be the factor that causes people’s satisfaction. It could instead reflect cultural differences in how people respond to poll questions.

    I think the debate over money buying happiness will not be resolved satisfactorily until scientists unravel the mysteries of human consciousness, which could happen in a dozen years or so.

    Until then, I agree with the majority of poll responders at the end of my article that checked “Building a deeper relationship with a significant other” as the option that would provide the most lasting happiness. Today, nurturing close rewarding bonds with loved ones could be the best place to find true happiness.

    Comments welcome.

    Posted by: futuretalk   April 24, 2008
    Vote for this comment - Recommend

  5. I think the debate over money buying happiness will not be resolved satisfactorily until scientists unravel the mysteries of human consciousness, which could happen in a dozen years or so.

    I agree, though we’re bound to see some really cool research results along the way, especially from the fields of social psych and the budding field of neuroeconomics (which I would study if entering college today – in addition to game design).

    Posted by: Alvis Brigis   April 24, 2008
    Vote for this comment - Recommend

  6. Yes, at the Center for the Study of Neuroeconomics at George Mason University, researchers are utilizing brain imaging technologies such as fMRI scans to observe neuron activity when our mind is thinking about economic decisions.

    Today, this new field is just getting started, but it should advance substantially with the number-crunching ability of quantum computers that will easily make sense out of the nearly countless synaptic activities that give rise to human decision making.

    Just how earth-shaking might this new understanding of our brain be? It could prove or disprove concepts such as the one expressed by the late Milton Friedman that, “People make purchasing decisions based on what they expect their incomes to be in the long-term, thereby mitigating the short-term impact on personal spending;” or Warren Buffet as he explains his investment philosophy, “We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy when others are fearful.”

    As researchers learn more about Neuroeconomics, we will surely get closer to understanding how money influences our lives.

    Posted by: futuretalk   April 24, 2008
    Vote for this comment - Recommend

  7. I am certain that the future of happiness has a direct relationship with the technology provided. When I say technology, I mean language. I assert that the future of happiness will emerge in a global conversation about the idea of creating happiness, using language. Though we can track and graphically analyze what happiness looks like, during the experience, it doesn’t totally give us access to creating it. Happiness can be created over and over again, I mean, we invented the idea of it, so we can invent it again. It doesn’t seem logical, the context that happiness is somewhere out there, an entity to find, or have after the fact we reach a certain point. Happiness doesn’t happen to us.

    Most people think that they will be happy if they first DO the things needed to HAVE the things they want, so that they can finally BE happy. Actually, if we look at the steps most people take, it would be DO, HAVE and then BE. Happiness can be created by simply taking the third step, BE, and put it in front of everything.

    Studies communicate that there is ZERO relationship between having any one item, or doing one thing and the experience of happiness. Though each may grant a short term experience of happiness.

    It will become more and more apparent with new linguistic technology, that happiness, love, freedom and all other experiences humans have created, will be a function of creating and being. The experience of happiness is not independant of language. Language is access to all worlds.

    Posted by: Peltaire   April 24, 2008
    Vote for this comment - Recommend

  8. Happy Valentines Day 2017

    Posted by: refat01   January 18, 2017
    Vote for this comment - Recommend