Earned Success Makes People Happier
I tell this to the kids I speak to at the high school -- not in so many words -- but about how satisfying it was to go from a point where I had terrible jobs and slept on a door propped up on two milk crates because I couldn't afford a bed...to the point where I was earning a living.
(I haven't spoken there recently because the teacher who brought me in changed jobs, but we're hoping to do a big speaking event in the latter part of this year with a bunch of different speakers I bring in, some of whom went to college and some of whom did not.)
On a related note, there's an op-ed by Arthur Brooks in the WSJ noting how lottery winners tend to end up miserable, but how people who earn their success tend to be happier:
The University of Chicago's General Social Survey reveals that people are twice as likely to feel "very happy" about their lives if they feel "very successful" or "completely successful" at work, rather than "somewhat successful." The differences persist whether they earn more or less income.
Entrepreneurs of all types rate their well-being higher than do members of all other professional groups in America, according to years of polling by the Gallup organization. And it's not because of the money. The employment website CareerBuilder.com reported in 2011 that small business owners made 19% less per year than government managers.
While earned success facilitates the pursuit of happiness, unearned transfers generally impede it. According to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, going on the welfare rolls increases by 16% the likelihood of a person saying he or she has felt inconsolably sad over the past month (even after controlling for poverty and unemployment). A study by economist John Ifcher at Santa Clara University shows that single mothers who were required by the 1990s welfare reform to work for their benefits--and therefore lost leisure time, had to find child care and the like--were still significantly happier about their lives after the reforms than before.
All this data relates to our policy debates because every year, fewer and fewer people earn their way in America without a government subsidy. As my colleague Nicholas Eberstadt has written, entitlements have doubled as a percentage of the ballooning federal budget since 1960. Today, more than half of American households receive government transfer benefits.
And this isn't just a case of senior citizens taking the Social Security they have paid for. Unearned transfers are exploding. Consider that the number of Americans receiving disability benefits has increased almost 20-fold since 1960, to 8.6 million today from 455,000. The Tax Foundation notes that nearly 70% of Americans now take more out of the tax system than they pay into it.
It is a simple fact that the United States is becoming an entitlement state. The problem with this is not just that it is bankrupting the country. It is that the entitlement state is impoverishing the lives of the growing millions dependent on unearned resources. The good news is that we have a golden opportunity to rein in entitlements, for the first time in many years.
We may have "a golden opportunity," but I think the likelihood it will be taken is right up there with my walking out and finding a purple unicorn eating my fern.