A chapter in Research in the Findings in the Economics on Aging, written by Angus Deaton and edited by David A. Wise, from the National Bureau of Economic Research and published in 2010 by the University of Chicago Press, presents self-reported data from 132 nations on life satisfaction:
"In particular, the very strong international relationship between per capita GDP and life satisfaction suggests that, on average, people have a good idea of how income, or the lack of it, affects their lives. It is simply not true that the people of India are as satisfi ed with their lives as the people of France, let alone Denmark, nor is it true that people in sub- Saharan Africa, or Afghanistan, Iraq, or Cambodia, are as happy as people in India."
Recognition of the status of others and the ability to make comparisons shape such self-reporting, and Deaton concludes:
"People may adapt to misery and hardship, and cease to see it for what it is. They do not necessarily perceive their lack of freedom as a problem; the child who is potentially a great musician but never has a chance to find out will not express her lack of satisfaction, and whole groups can be taught that their poor health, or their lack of political participation, are natural or even desirable aspects of a good world."
The analysis for the aging report is based on the Gallup World Poll, which collected data from samples of people in each of 132 countries during 2006.
In Fear of Beauty, the main character, an Afghan woman living in a remote village, insists to a US aid worker that she is free and happy, and we'd like to think she feels the same a few decades from now.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Adam Grant and Wikimedia Commons, which explains "An elderly Afghan woman looks on as members of Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team perform a quality assurance check on the Zagrando Bando School Jan. 8 . The completion of this project will help provide a safe and sanitary environment that is conducive to learning and by improving the literacy rate in the area by a projected 25 percent."