Happiness, economic growth, and oil prices

Top: US GDP per capita, and US median family income, in thousands of chained 2000 US dollars. (GDP from the BEA, median family income from Data 360, and population from the Census Bureau). Bottom: Percentage of persons who responded to the question "Taken all together, how would you say things are these days‐‐would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?" with each of the three options. (General Social Survey).

The country getting much wealthier over the last few decades has had very limited effect on our aggregate happiness.

Furthermore, oil prices are fairly uncorrelated with happiness:

Top: Inflation adjusted oil prices/barrel (BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2007). Bottom: Percentage of persons who responded to the question "Taken all together, how would you say things are these days‐‐would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?" with each of the three options (General Social Survey).

Conclusion: The absolute level of happiness of the US population is not very sensitive to macroeconomic variables. The approach of peak oil has not had a large effect on happiness so far. Interesting to watch how this develops.

Finally, I would say that I am "pretty happy". It would be interesting to know how personal happiness correlates with views on peak oil.

Small Print

This is the happiness raw data:

1972-82 1982B 1983-1987 1987B 1988-91 1993-1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006
Very Happy 1 4632 68 2352 64 1918 2240 891 881 415 419 920
Pretty Happy 2 7194 209 4179 216 3368 4332 1575 1603 784 738 1676
Not too happy 3 1755 73 903 63 571 891 340 293 170 180 390
Don't know 8 1 0 1 0 0 2 2 1 1 2 6
No answer 9 44 4 107 10 50 37 24 39 2 1 0
Not applicable 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1393 1472 1518 4383

I plotted the center point of the aggregate time ranges, and the percentages in my graph neglect the don't know/not applicable responses. I cannot find an annual series for this survey question, though the survey is apparently performed annually.

Also, Methodological Report 56 cautions:

21. Two separate context effects have distorted the time trend on personal happiness (HAPPY). First, personal happiness is higher for married persons when preceded by an item on marital happiness (HAPMAR). Marital happiness has preceded personal happiness on all surveys except 1972 and Form 3 in 1980 and Form 3 in 1987. To make a consistent series we have a) used the experimental comparisons in 1980 and 1987 to adjust the 1972 personal happiness figures and have eliminated the variant experimental forms in 1980 and 1987 (Smith, 1979). Second, personal happiness is lower when not preceded by the five-item, satisfaction scale (SATCITY, SATHOBBY, SATFAM, SATFRND, SATHEALT). This scale has routinely preceded personal happiness except in 1972, in 1985, on Form 2 in 1986, and on Forms 2 and 3 in 1987. Using the experimental comparisons in 1986 and 1987, we have adjusted the figures for 1972 and 1985 and have eliminated the variant forms for 1986 and 1987 (Smith, 1986).

Great googly-moogly. TOD server is choking today. I don't know what's wrong, but something is.

There was an interesting study I posted a link to awhile back. It was about Mexican immigrants. They come to the U.S., and become significantly wealthier...but much less happy. Apparently, Mexicans tend to be much happier than USans. As Mexicans assimilate into US culture, they become more similar to us. Psychologically was well as economically.

The happiest people in the world are Nigerians. Money really doesn't buy happiness.

Not that I expect that to turn people away from money. Heck, I know something like 3 out of 5 lottery winners end up bankrupt in five years, and many wish they'd never won. Some even give the money back. But I still want a chance to test it for myself! ;-)

FWIW, I also would say I am a pretty happy person. Even though many here consider me a doomer. ;-) I'm a technophile, but I know, from personal experience, that technology is not necessary for happiness. I've lived overseas without electricity or running water. Is it less convenient? Hell, yeah. But it really has nothing to do with happiness. You get used to it very quickly.

"The happiest people in the world are Nigerians". What's your source on that? This source


shows global happiness levels being ROUGHLY in accordance with GDP (ie monotonic wrt GDP on a country-by-country basis). As far as I know the 'positive psychology' interpretation of this goes 'Below $15,000 money buys happiness, above $15,000 people get confused and start judging themselves relative to their neighbours, hence no measurable increase in (mean) happiness once (mean) income gets near (+/-) $15,000.

This fits with what you say about Mexicans - Mexicans in Mexico = happy, because they earn about $10,000 (GDP/capita basis). Mexicans who move to the US = happier because they earn more (clearly, otherwise they wouldn't move). Mexicans who stay in the US longterm = unhappy since they start judging themselves relative to the US average of $44,000.

I highly recommend the books 'Authentic Happiness' by Martin Seligman, 'The Happiness Hypothesis' by Jonathan Haidt and 'Stumbling on Happiness' by Daniel Gilbert. If you're interested in this stuff then you'll really enjoy each of them.


Nigeria tops happiness survey

A new study of more than 65 countries published in the UK's New Scientist magazine suggests that the happiest people in the world live in Nigeria - and the least happy, in Romania.

People in Latin America, Western Europe and North America are happier than their counterparts in Eastern Europe and Russia.

Nigeria has the highest percentage of happy people followed by Mexico, Venezuela, El Salvador and Puerto Rico, while Russia, Armenia and Romania have the fewest.

But factors that make people happy may vary from one country to the next with personal success and self-expression being seen as the most important in the US, while in Japan, fulfilling the expectations of family and society is valued more highly.

I'm a little suspicious that the master might be telling us how happy the house slaves are. Maybe, maybe not. I'd rather a Nigerian source.

cfm in Gray, ME

I'd also recommend Luxury Fever: Money and Happiness in an Era of Excess, Robert Frank. Excellent in depth discussion of these issues.

The happiest people in the world are Nigerians

A while ago I read that the scandinavians, especially the danish people, are the, hm, happiest? No I think they called it 'most contented' (I hope that's the difference between German 'gluecklich' and 'zufrieden').

Contentedness as per that report was rooting in high social standards, and, interesting enough, absence of religious pressure.

I remember that study. I believe it was contentment, not happiness. Basically, it was because Danish people have low expectations. So they're always pleasantly surprised.

It pays to be a doomer! ;-)

Danes are known for their brutal honesty. So they don't suffer from the continual struggle to make nice.

Hi radlafari,

... 'gluecklich' and 'zufrieden'...

I think the word you're looking for is schadenfreude. ;-)

Happiness is a collie.


Casey, Kyle, Kingston and Kelsey extend their paws.


Interesting observation Stuart, and puts "happiness" in its rightful place.

However, I remember being quite happy during the 70s oil embargo, and happy-but-becoming-anxious during the early 80s embargo (and concurrent hyperinflation). I think a different analysis that might be equally useful would have to do with anxiety or crime when economic times get difficult.

Remember the hijacked meat trucks during the embargo when meat prices soared? How about the warning not to use locking gasoline caps on your car since it would tempt people to break them open -- in spite-- so they could steal YOUR gasoline. Maybe the locking gas cap rumor was because I was living in Lowell MA during the first oil embargo and Lowell was at times a rough place. However, that environment might be a good paradigm of what might happen if the economy really goes bump as peak oil settles in.


Green Hornet

I recommend the book "The Paradox of Choice" by Schwartz; it's a quick read and highlights some non-intuitive realities about the "Tyranny of Choice".

Basically, being overwhelmed with choices messes people up. Is there anywhere Tainter isn't hiding?

I second this recommendation.

I think there is also a social element to be considered when asking people how happy they are. Maybe in Nigerian culture it's considered normal to say you are happy, but in some western countries maybe it's considered better form to downplay how happy you are for some reason.

It's a tough thing to measure accuately.

The absolute level of happiness of the US population is not very sensitive to macroeconomic variables.


Happines peaked just as per annum increases in per-capita energy consumption peaked here in the U.S.:


Please note: it's the amount of increase, not the total amount that appears to be operative here.

As far as my happiness, I'm an uber-doomer and I'd rank my level of happiness as a "7.5" on a scale of 1-to-10.

And the Lawyer proclaims definite links between money and happiness.

Some of my happiest times were college and the military when I was flat broke.

I'm an uber-doomer also, Matt. And although I'm laid-off at the moment from my primary job, I'm doing well enough with my home-based job. When I'm employed at my primary job, my happiness level would be around an 8. I'm probably around 6.5 right now because of the strain on my budget at a time that I feel desperate about the lack of funds for preparations, which I am woefully behind on.

Having said that, I suspect that when TSHTF and if I make it through the ensuing chaos, I believe I'll be capable of leading my family through it and on the other side. If all goes well, I believe that I will actually be at a higher level of happiness post-SHTF...maybe even a 9 - 9.5.

I have never been a fan of our servile social evolution. I'm...disenchanted...with it. It's time to start over!

dude (or dudette, as the case mya be) . . . anybody who can come up with the screen name "Ovis Suburbanus" (Suburban Sheep) has enough of a sense of humor about things that I'm sure they'll be able to get to 9.

That would be Mr. Suburbanus :). And you have to keep your sense of humor despite having the foresight of things to come. I expect difficulties and hardships, but oh will it make life just a bit more interesting. I'm glad I'm around at a time will humanity will see it's single most profound change in all of human history. So, cheers to having a front-row seat!

"If you can't laugh about the end of civilization what can you laugh about?"

I'm still a little miffed you didn't approve my myspace friend request, though :P

#1 I don't use myspace much

#2 I don't even know you

Interesting. I believe myself to be in the same boat with you. I truly believe that once we make it through the turmoil and I am living as a subsistence farmer, that I will be happier than I have ever been, hardships and all. I believe I might even be considered an anarchist in some ways.

If you're not truly an anarchist now, events may dictate that you will be. I see you just joined The Oil Drum and I'd like to welcome you. Are you new to PO awareness?

I recall when movies were preceded by a news reel where a man speaking in a stylized and serious voice would read off some news and bring us up to date on all the wonderful things science was doing that laid the ground work for a wonderful space age life. Boy! Life was exciting with so much to look forward to.
I have a mental picture of the availability of “things” to purchase and make our lives easier and more interesting as being sort of a bell curve that tracks the availability of cheap energy. Of course, we don't know what the “other” side of the curve will be like when energy is no longer cheap and plentiful but we can sort of get and idea by re-learning what life was like in the 1950's, 40's, 30's and so on. What will it be like when things we are accustomed to having any time we want are slowly (or maybe not so slowly) peeled away. Most novels and science fiction somehow embodies the notion that the human spirit triumphs over adversity. My recollection is that that was always at the root of all Star Trek episodes.
But we moderately well-to-do folks living in the developed world probably have a hard time imagining a world where new things are not being developed, economic growth does not continue, and we'll finish out our career and move into a wonderful retirement. We probably can intellectually but at the emotional level we probably think we'll pull through somehow. I wonder how folks will bear up psychologically if or when we come to grips with the reality that we have reached the tipping point of all the good things life has to offer and have begun sort of living life in reverse as we slide down the other side of the bell curve.

The data I've been able to find so far are not very different from flat over time, hence my comment. There's some sign that things were a bit worse in the 1980s, but then got better again in the 1990s. Do you have any data back into the 50s or 60s? (your linked article relies on a single quote from a newspaper article).

Money may not buy happiness, but it will sure rent it for awhile.

I had a friend who won a $20k scratch-off and it ruined his life. He took the money and spent it gambling at a Louisiana casino, didn't give any to his wife. Disgusted with him after 20 years of marriage while he held only irregular jobs, she divorced Gary. Gary took to living in a taxicab and driving, got cancer and died a couple of years ago homeless and destitute. But he sure was happy for a week until the money was gone.Bob Ebersole

Influx of money + responsible person = good chance of more happiness

Influx of money + the typical American jackass = good chance of a massive clusterfuck

In all fairness, I can assure you, as a European, that you can drop the "American" there - jackassness is a universal constant.

That said, there are pretty good chances that jackasses will peak not too long after oil.

I have a brother that also has a problem remaining employed.
He thinks that every time he gets fired its the employers fault. And on many issues he is never the one that made a mistake. Its people like him that I hope will wake up to the reality of life as it gets harder for everyone. The key problem is people simply are not grateful or thankful. Almost nobody in the US spends any amount of time reflecting on what they have instead the focus on what they want. To me this lack of gratefulness is the real underlying problem for a lot of Americans and people throughout the world. We have lost this.

I think my parents who are baby boomer's are grateful but I think that its their generation that started to lose any concept of respecting success. Because being grateful is really about respect for those who have less than you and being thankful for what you have.

Sorry for the rant but the disgusting greed of Orange County CA grates on my nerves from time to time. Its a pretty sick and shallow place. If this is peek greed then I don't feel sorry its ending so we can get back to living and enjoying life.


You have expressed exactly how I feel. The spoiled rotten mentality of most people in this country is appalling. It makes me sick. Glad I'm not the only one who feels this way. The effects of peak oil will cause these spoiled brats to go off a temper tantrum like has never been seen.

On this we agree although I'm a boomer.

I think "I am supposed to be happy"


"I am supposed to care for my family"
"I am supposed to be considerate of others"
"I am supposed to keep my word"
"I am supposed to take care of myself and be responsible for my choices and outcomes rather than rely on or blame others for my circumstances"

And we could certainly come up with others..

Thank you of course being the child of a boomer and well in to the spoiled generation we are not taught these concepts in school. It might ruin our self image I guess.

I was but thats just because of how may parents thought.
Not to rag the boomer generation but I just feel that its the one that fragmented with part of it looking back to the past and the wars and depression and part of it partying like no tomorrow. And it crosses all the various lifestyles from the hippies to the right wing republicans. You nailed it. The key is being responsible and thats tied with being grateful and simply being able to be responsible and finally you get to happiness or satisfaction. And this in turn goes all the way back to understanding the difference between what you deserve and what you have. People deserve very little in a wealthy society food, minimal shelter and some basic health care and the responsibility of caring for dependents.

Other than that ...

Sometimes the lack of money brings even more happiness. Thru a lot of hard work last year, I was able to keep my income so low I paid nothing in taxes. For one year, the war wasn't mine. That made me happier than any amount of money would have.


This is a plot of the US Personal Saving Rate (which appears to basically be a cash flow metric) versus Brent crude oil prices. It's normalized. In both cases the 2000 value = 100.


Before putting too much into this, it would be useful to look at the same time series over a longer period. Personal savings in the US as a percent of disposable income has been decreasing on a linear trend since about 1982 (eg, Chart 1 in this Federal Reserve research paper, whereas crude prices have not shown the post-2003 trend over that longer period. This would seem to suggest that the cause for the decrease in savings rate is not due to energy prices, but rather to something different.

At least one of the hypotheses that has been put forward to explain the savings trend has been the much more sophisticated credit market that has emerged over that period, and errors in the way that measurements are made. Historically, it was necessary to save first, then purchase large consumer goods. Today, so many people can get credit (or even, have credit thrust upon them) that one can buy first, then save. Add in complications such as money contributed to a 401(k) account does not count towards the savings rate in the current methods of calculation, and it becomes very difficult to make comparisons.

Some economists have gone so far as to suggest that the very high savings rates in Asia are more a reflection of immature credit markets than anything else; in the US, you buy the new refrigerator on credit and then "save" to pay for it; in China, OTOH, you still have to save first and then you can buy the refrigerator.

Another hypothesis, fwiw, is that the US tax-deductibility of mortgage payments is a significant cause of the low US savings rate - people are encouraged to spend money on (mortgage) interest payments, since the government takes this out of pre-tax, rather than post-tax income.


I could be wrong, but I think that this is the first time since the Thirties that the Personal Saving Rate (PSR) has been negative.

Note that Saving is singular, not plural. As I understand it, the PSR is basically a cash flow metric, i.e., how much cash is left over after paying bills.

Of course, the oil price increase has also corresponded to the gigantic increase in total US public and private debt. So, for many American consumers, their finances are based on perfection, i.e., among other things based on the assumption that we can have an infinite rate of increase in the consumption of a finite energy resource base.

"Far better to recognize, as does Chart 1, that only twice before during the last century has such a high percentage of
national income (5%) gone to the top .01% of American families. Far better to understand, to quote Buffett, that "society should place an initial emphasis on abundance but then should continuously strive to redistribute the abundance more equitably."

_Bill Gross, Pimco, Investment Outlook for July 2007

People don't have the cash to save very much, the inflation rate is total BS, it excludes food and energy, the daily necessities. Wages have sunk for many families as manufacturing jobs are replaced with service and retail, and most construction trades are Mexicans.

Many families in the US are walking a tight-rope. They've borrowed to the hilt with a second mortgage to pay off their credit cards and bought an SUV for every adult in the family to get to work, plus the rebate to juggle the bills another couple of months. Their credit cards are at 18%-22%, and if any disaster hits its the bankruptcy court. Nobody can get sick, or have a large auto repair, or get laid off.

I'm not very sure that a personal evaluation of happiness on subjective criteria is valid, ther are just too many different groups in the US, and a lot of deceit. Bob Ebersole

A number of studies that I have read indicate that your happiness is not driven by your gross income in nominal dollars, it is driven by your relative standing among your peers and community.

For example, if you are the "richest of the poor" (your relative standing among your peers/social circle is higher than others), you tend to be more happy; even though in the big picture, your still poor.

Or, if you are the "poorest rich person, in a rich community", your happiness will be less because you are always comparing yourself relative to your peers/social circle; even though in this case amoung the total population, your still rich.

Likewise, if some event (e.g. peak oil) causes everyone's living standards to be reduced by X amount with all things else being held equal, then one's relative standing among thier peers/social circle will remain the same and we would expect that their happiness would remain basically the same. Kind of the effect "everyone is in the same boat".

If someone had the time and data, they should look at happiness during the great depression. I would guess that happiness was relatively the same because among one's peer group and social circle, everyone was dealing with the same difficulties.

See my other post. Your missing the concept of gratefulness.
I suspect people in the Great Depression where full of gratefulness if they had a job. Its a different concept from happiness but in my opinion far more important. I suspect that the Happiness measure that puts Nigeria on top is really a result of the fact that Nigerians are grateful for their success no matter how meager.

Hello. This is my first post here.

Here is a link to a recent Pew study that shows a strong relationship between income and happiness ratings up to relativity high income levels.

Are we happy yet:


They also note that these self-ratings seem to be driven by social comparison, because the averages have not increased over time in the US despite large adjusted income growth.

It does not necessarily follow, however, that the increased average income has not increased real happiness. After all, these are just self-ratings of happiness, and are not necessarily well correlated with true happiness (how might that be measured?; maybe something like an integral based on a series of momentary happiness ratings would be better, but impractical). So, if the ratings are purely relative and not true happiness, then by definition they would not have changed over time even if true happiness has increased with income. We just don't know as far as I can tell.

For example, if you are the "richest of the poor" (your relative standing among your peers/social circle is higher than others), you tend to be more happy; even though in the big picture, your still poor

For a guy who doesn't read much I'm recommending a lot of books here, but on this I recommend "Fooled by Randomness" by Nassim Taleb. It's from the point of view of a market trader, but has a lot of useful stuff in this vein. Enjoyable and intelligent, and if you read it you'll see a lot of parallels with the peak oil issue.

Although I'm seriously concerned about the impact of Peak Oil and abrupt climate change, I rate myself as very happy. Why? Good health, good friends, good relationships with children and grandchildren, meaningful activities such as writing and sailing, achievable goals and purposes in life, adequate income, good memories.

I worry about the future for my children and grandchildren, but the best I can do now is to let them know what I think and feel. I do not think that my grandchildren are doomed to a miserable existence because of Peak Oil, but I do think in economic terms they will lead lives far more restricted than my life has been. I think they have a good chance for happy and fulfilled lives without being able to hop on a jet to anywhere or to go on an inexpensive 5,000 mile trip by automobile.

From the age of six, all of my children and grandchildren have been riding bicycles, and though they don't ride as much as I do, eventually they probably will ride much more. All of my children and grandchildren (even the two and a half year old) can reason fairly well, and they all recognize limits. I've done what I can to give my children a good launch into life, and if they must sail through rough seas, I think their chances are as good as anybody's and better than most people's.

Shocked, and surprised?
From Juan Cole--
"Sawt al-Iraq reports that member of the Kurdistan parliament, Nuri Talabani, insists that US economic interests are driving its heavy-handed push to make sure the Iraqi parliament signs a petroleum law in short order. He said that the US government wants special deals for US petroleum corporations in developing, producing and distributing Iraqi petroleum, and that is why it is in such a hurry. Since the US and its Iraqi allies have been involved in heavy negotiations with the Kurdistan Regional Government over the exact provisions of a petroleum law, it is plausible that Talabani has special knowledge of US goals."

Research in the EU tends to show (and one has to say *tends* because such data, that is self-reports in a pre-set questionnaire, is fraught with difficulties, as pointed out in the top post) that income affects happiness when it is low, well below, or somewhat below, the median. (Negatively; above that no effect is found.) I can’t think of a paper that analyses this effect in detail, it is of course very cumbersome to do and probably not worthwhile.

I know that in CH the tipping point is at about 4,000 ch f a month (average salary is close to 5). And even there, the effect is ‘significant’ - but that says nothing about the importance of the variable, simply that it does play a role.

Of course, it is the comparison itself that hurts, not the absolute. And ppl’s self social rating plays a tremendous role - eg. in the US the belief in social advancement remains high (erroneously), almost everyone thinks they are ‘middle class’, etc.

Common sense tells one what makes ppl happy. Mac Mansions, sports cars, diamond rings, and Mexican maids do not. Work that pays properly, is carried out in a good atmosphere, friends, sexy lovers / a happy family life, ties with community, music (etc.) self realization, etc. do.

Lastly, the ‘West’ has developed a ‘happiness’ cult, - see the psychs. who try to measure it on linear scales. (Categories would be more useful and sensible, eg. for those interested in the prevention of teenage suicide.)

Other societies focus on other dimensions.

What's up with "not applicable"? All of the sudden it jumps from zero to 1393.

I would probably put down not applicable since I am not really sure what happiness is.

There is also some evidence that there is a happiness gene. Some people just seem happy naturally without a lot of effort, good luck, or any other external factor. For myself, I have found I have had to work at it, although not reallly knowing what it is.

Once I gave up, I became happier, although still not sure what it is.

I dream and work for a low carbon world. If achieved, would I be more happy? Not sure, as I would tend to just start thinking about the next problem down the list.

I had some big successes lately in the carbon arena. I was somewhat giddy for a few days, with little spurts of what might be called happiness. But like drugs, it wore off.

Perhaps the correct word for my usual state of mind is stoicism.

Another phenomenon relates to the stock market. A percentage decrease in their portfolio makes people feel more unhappy than the increase in happiness from the same percentage gain. My guess, however, based on my experience, is that both effects pretty much wear off after awhile. The bottom line is that you can't take it with you.

I think it would be fun to win a big lottery but doubt it would really make me any more happy. It would be great to have a bunch of money to further renewable energy, including giving grants away for people to install things like solar and buy more efficient vehicles.


Imposters posing as ExxonMobil and National Petroleum Council (NPC)
representatives delivered an outrageous keynote speech to 300 oilmen
at GO-EXPO, Canada's largest oil conference, held at Stampede Park in
Calgary, Alberta, today.


That is Brilliant.

The Yes Men were interviewed last week on PBS's Bill Moyers Journal

The petroleum conference happened some time back, not "today." The link doesn't give much info about the EXXON spoof, but it was in the full interview I saw.

As long as they start with lawyers first and wait for the rest of us to die of natural causes I don't see a problem.

If we got rid of all the lawyers it probably would cut US oil consumption by 10% and slow global warming by a significant amount with the reduction in hot air.

Great topic. Seems as energy flow per capita levels off, and the rising tide which lifts all boats subsides, competition ensues for maintaining (let alone increasing) one’s relative social position. On a rising energy tide people aren’t so concerned about their position relative to that of elites (not much envy of Great Gatsby in 1920s?), whereas on a receding tide relative inequality increases and people begin to realize that they have less and less chance of making it. People are then both more envious of/fascinated with the lives of the rich and famous (celebrity worship of last decade or two) as well as having to work harder and harder to generate economic wealth to convert into the social and cultural capital which validates one’s social position…which usually involves increased consumption.

The middle class house of my youth (late 1950s/early 1960s), which seemed just fine then and was considered by my parents as “moving up”, seemed like a very ordinary, rather small old suburban house when I revisited in the late 1990s at a HS reunion. A link to Tainter here - people have to consume more just to stay in place - paying more for ever more expensive schools (esp. colleges) for their children, going for that bigger car/van/SUV (what, no automatic doors?), taking ever more elaborate vacations (you’ve only been to Hawaii, not Tahiti?), ever more elaborate honeymoons for their children, etc.

All about saving face and staying in the game. Nigerians are happy, apparently, because the vast majority never aspired nor were forced to aspire to increasing consumption, and elites were so few and out of touch anyway. The vast majority there have been playing a different game.

A better correlation than this would be to look at the price of oil and the traditional political polling question of whether the country is right track or wrong track. That historically has correlated fairly closely. The right track wrong track number across all polls today is historically unprecedented, only late 70s is close.

Hello TODers,

Tourists visiting the Grand Canyon are absolutely delighted and thrilled to stand near the cliff. A very small percentage are willing to safely hike to the bottom. Consider Peak Everything and Climate Change as the force that will cause most to plummet from this lofty height-- Happy Campers they will not be.

My hope is that Peakoil Outreach will help massive numbers of people metaphorically realize that the best chance for their survival is to hike down to the Colorado River to grow food and drink water. The major drawback to this plan is that Phantom Ranch is truly a realistic Overshoot-name.


Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Hey Totoneila,

I'm down in your town for a few days attending a conference. It's my first visit to Phoenix in 25 years. (Well okay, I'm actually in Scottdale.)

I honestly thought I'd see more solar collectors on houses. Did I pass through the wrong neighborhoods? Or am I living in a fantasy world thinking Arizonans would be taking better advantage of this free resource?

Hello Xokiawiti,

Thxs for responding. Yep, my Aphalt Wonderland is a fantasy world:

I hope I can help you understand why Phx has so few PVs and solar water heaters. It is a very long, ugly story that leaves a bad taste in a Peaknik's mouth.
Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

And you can add evaporative (aka "swamp") coolers to that list of things you don't see that often in the newer parts of the Phoenix area. For some reason they are not considered groovy.

A treamendous shame and an utter waste as they are very energy & cost effective and if properly configured work reasonably well most of the time in that climate.

edited to add "energy" efficient -- I missed my own point]

"A very small percentage are willing to safely hike to the bottom."

Interesting analogy. I've actually been to Phantom Ranch. My friends and I took 4+ liters of water per person on a six mile trail to the bottom and drank every last drop, plus drank another liter as soon as we topped off the bottles at the bottom. We didn't know what we were going to run into at the bottom in terms of water, food (we'd planned on eating at the restaurant at the bottom, but didn't know if our reservations had gone through), temperature and whatnot so we wound up taking 35 pound packs for an overnighter due to carrying tents, sleeping bags, food, water purifier, etc. We wound up getting our food at the restaurant, and I slept on my ground pad on a table - no tent, no sleeping bag (never dropped below 80F), and there was a purified water source for refilling our bottles. So we wound up taking a lot of unnecessary weight, but we were prepared for anything. Eight hour descent, 120 degrees at the bottom.

We ran into a family about 3/4 of the way down, an overweight (average looking American) man somewhere in his mid 40's, his wife of similar age and physical condition, a middle teens son who was in decent physical condition and slightly younger daughter who were attempting to go to the bottom and back to the top in the same day. They were carrying ONE liter of water each. They didn't even make it to the bottom and they were completely wiped out. The father had sent the son to the bottom (about a mile still at that point to fetch the rest of the family some water). We gave them some of our water and wished them the best, hoping that the mules (which both give tours and re-supply phantom ranch) would rescue them before they died.

Trying to go down and back in one day is apparently one of the popular ways to die and there are signs everywhere telling you not to try. Another popular way to die is to get too close to the edge of a cliff and fall off - very appropriate analogy.

It seemed that the smart people ride the mules around the canyon :) and the mules keep Phantom Ranch supplied as well as carry tools for the trail workers. We took Bright Angel trail out of the canyon, 8 mile ascent over 10 hours - at least that trail had water - both to drink and to roll in occasionally. In another good part of the P.O. analogy, there are some locals who are in spectacular shape, who actually are able to go to the bottom of the canyon and back to the top in one day. They stay on the trails which have water available but still carry two liters of water, and carry small packs with a lunch. We ran into many others who went one or two miles down into the canyon on a day hike before turning around, but it seemed most were content to remain at the rim.

Great piece Stuart. Addressing questions like these is central to peak oil solutions/adaptation.

Question: Since we are geared towards relative comparisons versus absolute, how would the happiness graph look compared to GDP growth instead of absolute GDP?? I'll bet there is more of a relationship, (especially if we could somehow include the 1920s and 1903s.)

As long as people have basic needs met, and perceive the current time period is better than than the last (hour, day, week, year, etc) and that the future will be better than the current, happiness should abound. Which suggests how we define WHAT is better from one period to the next is the key issue - GDP/DJIA will not be the benchmark for our children.

I agree with the conclusion: happiness can't be correlated with economic variables such as per capita GDP, or per capita median income.

If this were true, then Nigerians, Tibetan monks, or any so-called "primitive" peoples or "tribal" societies could ever have been, or ever will be, happy.... unless they meet & conform to our own preconceived Western measures of wealth & survival/living standards. Technically, it is possible to live like Tarzan on subsistence food-water-shelther levels, and still be happy.

In addition, social status comparison as a determiner of happiness, that is a flawed argument as well. Not all countries, cultures, or individuals, live by the tenet of "Keeping-Up-With-the-Jones" (or Stay-Ahead-of-Everybody- Else, which is the case for the US as a whole), falsely believing that such is the path to happiness. Those that do so, whether due to cultural "norm" or individual choice, actually end up severely limiting their own opportunities for happiness. But they refuse to believe that their own philosophy is producing their own unhappiness, and cannot imagine the happiness that comes from the freedom from social comparison - or the happiness that comes from sharing.

IMO, these points are essential to Peak Oil since it is the majority of oil "consumers" who believe their happiness depends on maintaining their individual lifestyles/incomes/assets etc, when it clearly does not. Any "decline" is perceived as a "loss", when in actuality, they could very well be considered "gains".

That, and the tendency of "modern" human beings to have such complete and blind faith in their own short-sighted ability to solve all problems technologically.

Sky: Well, much as you and I might not like it, clearly many people in industrial societies, esp. the USofA, do think that their happiness is, at least in part, a function of their relative levels of consumption, both in time, as Nate suggests, as well as in comparison with others. That's the problem, isn't it?

How do you propose get people to want to do what, we believe, they have to do? How, concretely, do you propose to spread your idea to all these misguided people?

Actually, I have very little hope that ppl will "wake up" in time. Perhaps that is partly due to the country I live in now (I'm an ex-pat American), where most people have never heard of peak oil. And most people I've talked to about it, aren't all that moved. Most believe that technological solutions will be developed in time. (I need to work on my delivery.) Right now, I only work part-time (I've always been a saver, so I've saved up some cash after 10 years of working), and try to spend the rest of my time researching world problems (which is how I first found out about peak oil). I'm trying to set up a local language website on peak oil. In the future, I might either set up a peak oil organization (if I can find anybody willing to join, since I'm the only person I know who believes peak oil is here or imminent), or else I'll just relocate and try to find a sustainable community.

When it comes to anti-consumption, I usually don't approach it from a peak oil point of view (too abstract for people), but from a psychological point of view. I live in a shopping-obsessed country, yet most people are not all that happy, so it's kind of easy to point out to ppl that buying more stuff doesn't work - and most ppl know from experience. They buy something, feel happy for a short period, and after a few days, for the vast majority of products, the high is gone. It's short-term "happiness", not long-term.

I agree with the conclusion: happiness can't be correlated with economic variables such as per capita GDP, or per capita median income.

Well stated. I was fascinated by the lack of variation in the happiness indexes through the last decade; clear indication to me of some kind of feedback mechanism to maintain a specific psychological state.

and you said:

IMO, these points are essential to Peak Oil since it is the majority of oil "consumers" who believe their happiness depends on maintaining their individual lifestyles/incomes/assets etc, when it clearly does not. Any "decline" is perceived as a "loss", when in actuality, they could very well be considered "gains".

That, and the tendency of "modern" human beings to have such complete and blind faith in their own short-sighted ability to solve all problems technologically.

I believe that true Evil is defined by "action taken based upon Blind Faith", and the choice of inaction fits that very well.

As for happiness, I don't think people know what really makes them happy (except the happy, shiny ones that drive me nuts), and they get their idea of happiness from advertising. Advertising tells them that they aren't happy unless they buy 'X', and they work themselves to death to have the money to buy 'X'. Peak Oil will suck up the money so that no matter how hard people work, they won't be able to fill their sub=suburban storage buildings with 'X', and they may eventually realize that the marketing of happiness isn't the same thing as satisfaction with life. We can hope so, anyway. The only alternative I see otherwise is just harder competition between everyone for the few scraps of 'X' to feed their addiction to shopping, while their food rots in the fields from lack of trucking and distribution companies (if it gets planted at all when the agrimegacorporations fold up).

"If you want Change, keep it in your pocket."

The approach of peak oil has not had a large effect on happiness so far.

I'm not sure any of the ~4500 respondents in 2006 would even know about peak oil. That's a pretty small sample size and if selected correctly would represent a fair number of individuals seen on the 'jay walking' portion of the Tonight show. Guess it's a start though...

Many things contribute to happiness:
Money, Sex, and Happiness: An Empirical Study

This paper studies the links between income, sexual behavior and reported happiness. It uses recent data on a random sample of 16,000 adult Americans. The paper finds that sexual activity enters strongly positively in happiness equations. Greater income does not buy more sex, nor more sexual partners. The typical American has sexual intercourse 2-3 times a month. Married people have more sex than those who are single, divorced, widowed or separated. Sexual activity appears to have greater effects on the happiness of highly educated people than those with low levels of education. The happiness-maximizing number of sexual partners in the previous year is calculated to be 1. Highly educated females tend to have fewer sexual partners. Homosexuality has no statistically significant effect on happiness. Our conclusions are based on pooled cross-section equations in which it is not possible to correct for the endogeneity of sexual activity. The statistical results should be treated cautiously.

I guess I'm a little surprised the chimp didn't mention this :-)

The Economist recently showed a map of world happiness:

Hmmm. Those Saudi Arabian's are looking pretty content :-)


I think we've all been mislead by the US Declaration of Independence where everyone is guaranteed "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" as an inalienable right.

First, if you are pursuing anything, that mean's you don't have it, its an elusive goal. The I Ching, the Chinese ancient text suggests that its a product of living an ethical life, where a person does his(or her) duty toward their family and society. Monetary goals are not mentioned, probably because the text was written before money was common.

I find, examining my life, that I require few things to make me happy beyond a simple living, but I do need certain attitudes and standards. I'm happiest when I have:

1. good work, something which I feel is good for me and useful to others
2. people to love, and people to love me. But my love for others is the important part
3. some goals that I am working towards
4. self-examination reveals I've been doing my duty, pay my debts, act in a truthful, kind and honorable fashion
5. something that makes me think, that gives me a sense of wonder and learning
6. a creative outlet

I see my duties as being a good father to my son, a good brother to my sisters, giving good value for the money I recieve from employers, and a good member of society.

None of this excludes any society on this planet at any time in human history. I suspect lots of people will be happy in a crash if they can just do these things. Duties are often not pleasant, I can't say I enjoyed wiping a friend's butt as she died of cancer, or being with her as the cancer ate her brain and she wasn't the person I loved but for brief moments at the end. But after her death was over and the pain behind me, I was proud that I did my duty as I saw it. And as my wife died of cancer about 17 years ago, I could hardly stand to be around her, her friends provided those offices. I still feel badly about how I treated her-but I think I learned from the process, and that's why I behave differently now.
Bob Ebersole

Thanks for that one, Bob. I have been extraodinarily blessed all my life, having all the things you mentioned, especially the mental challenges that I can barely solve, or maybe not quite solve (drat that bike transmission!), and lots of love and to family and friends.

But I still cringe at my dismissive treatment of my mother when she was going down, after she begged me to kill her to get her out of that "nursing home".

So now, when my own body, my house, my home, is disintegrating like a KCl pill in a glass of water, I pray that my folks will treat me better than I did my mother.

I think of all the old dogs I have put down. Give 'em a big dish of what they like best, and while they are at it, a 22 short hollow point right in the back of their head. Done.

I have had the good fortune to have experienced many cultures, and I find happy people everywhere- the one connecting thread among them all is that they are connected to their community- doing what is good, and getting the same. Wealth, gadgets beyond basics- nothing to do with it.

I find, examining my life, that I require few things to make me happy beyond a simple living, but I do need certain attitudes and standards. I'm happiest when I have:

1. good work, something which I feel is good for me and useful to others
2. people to love, and people to love me. But my love for others is the important part
3. some goals that I am working towards
4. self-examination reveals I've been doing my duty, pay my debts, act in a truthful, kind and honorable fashion
5. something that makes me think, that gives me a sense of wonder and learning
6. a creative outlet

Hmmm. In a nutshell, you've articulated why I spend time on theoildrum...

Extraordinarily Thoughtful !

For me, there are more items that I seek that make me happy.

7. Taking a few moments to appreciate beauty, relax and let it sink into all levels of consciousness. (I often do this walking in my neighborhood and sometimes I will stop in the middle of a good meal just to savor it).

8. Taking on tasks that push me to my limits, and beyond !
This includes not just social/economic tasks, but personal an inter-personal ones as well. One can this in Don Quixote, sayings such as "Man's reach should exceed his grasp, else what is a heaven for ?" and more.

And the little quote that rotates in the upper right here on TOD.

To do the last one needs a willingness to accept failure, including my own personal failings. Yet accepting failure, but not defeat, in a noble cause can generate a sublime happiness.

Best Hopes,


Hi all, I'm a TOD-addicted lurker, this is my first post: I don't have the insight most of you around here do.
That said, I would love to see a the increased occurrence of Western people taking antidepressants laid against this income-happiness plot. It seems pretty interesting that the relative volatility of pre-1995 happiness levels has stabilized for some reason...hmm.

this is your warning-\
four minute warning

Thanks for the thoughts and it is an interesting conclusion.

From memory, the Economist used to talk about 'peak happiness' occurring when GDP reached $10,000 per person. Beyond that it's downhill as the effort required to chase more GDP eats into happiness - longer working hours, higher house prices etc..

Ah, The Economist. Their July 28 leader opens (and opines)

The population of bugs in a Petri dish typically increases in an s-shaped curve. To start with, the line is flat because the colony is barely growing. Then the slope rises ever more steeply as bacteria proliferate until it reaches an inflection point. After that, the curve flattens out as a colony stops growing. Overcrowding and a shortage of resources constrain bug populations.

That's it, on to the rest of the unsurprising article about how to deal with a falling human population. I doubt that these dolts have actually ever looked at a bacterial colony after it "flattens out". Oh yeah, they must now be including "externalities" here. How novel.

The bacteria are certainly industrious early on, but are they happy?

Juse like Easter Island, population and production maxed out and stayed there. Yup.

Interestingly, the two things that stood out did so because of their absence of comment, in the keypost, in the comments here on TOD, and in not seeming to be of any statistical notice in the charts:

(a) 9-11-01. The event that at the time seemed so big frankly seems to have had no real effect on American happiness, sense of security or.....anything.

(b) The fact that we have now for a half decade been involved in the longest, bloodiest, and more doubtful war (from the U.S. point of view) since Vietnam has had no noticible effect on anything.

Is it possible that we as people in the U.S. have become so "ego-centric" that big world events that occur and have real impact on the American nation really just pass right by most Americans as just another odd news story?

Brief aside: I recall going to an Orchestral Concert (The Louisville Orchestra) in 2002, and one of the pieces being played was a world premiere symphonic set, arranged to the metaphor of the four seasons (ala Vivaldi's chamber pieces), in which there was a long self contained symphony for each season (beginning with spring, then summer, autumn, and winter). This was in 2002, and the 4 season set was said to have been under composition for 2 years, beginning in 2000, and finishing the set in mid 2002 just before it was premiered.

I listened to the whole set eagerly, but was especially interested in the autumn set....what would the composer do to commemorate 9/11? Of course, he would do something, it was just too big an event for an artist, an American artist in 2002 not to do something (I tried to guess....a silent break in the music at just the right time, better, twin breaks, one for each tower....or I thought more interesting would be two drum beats or strikes with the rest of the orchestra silent, one for each tower.....or twin blasts of horns....set one behind the other...or any of a dozen other artistic ways to honorably note the event that for the rest of our lives would be attached to an American September....

Here is what an American composer of some reputation did in 2002, to artistically mark the event of 9/11: NOTHING. There was no attempt to even recognize it had happened. No musical rememberence, no attempt at symbolism, no mention in the notes in the program.....NOTHING.
Astonishing to me to this day. The war is being handled the same way.... at most as a political spitting match, or a television continuing series....no real recognition of this as a major event in American history and American cultural life....

Emerson said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." That alone may explain much unhappiness in the United States during this great and possibly last gilded age.

Roger Conner Jr.
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

Roger: You picked up this "war" trip from watching too much CNN and Fox. Two opposing armies or military forces fight a war. What is happening in Iraq is an attempt by an invading military to force the local population to submit to their authority. So far it is not succeeding. Only in the world of American MSM nonsense would this adventure be termed a "war" (like the "war" on drugs,etc.).


At last I have been hit with an accusation that I can refute without doubt....I don't have cable, so I don't watch CNN, and I have NEVER watch one full Fox News broadcast. End of that story....

As far as defining war, think what you want, just look at the veterens hospitals, the dead in the graveyards, and the soon to be trillion dollar tab we are running up....call it what you want....if it looks like a war and smells like a war and costs like a war, then it's probably a war. Bush thought it was going to be some kind of little "adventure" too....the opposing "forces" (since we don't want to call them an army) seem to have thought otherwise.....

Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

If you're interested in the connection between social mood (which is a far deeper concept than happiness or the lack of it) and relative prosperity, you might enjoy History's Hidden Engine (free video download).

IMO collective optimism and confidence are drivers of economic success (because they are self-fullfilling prophecies to some extent, as are pessimism and lack of confidence), while happiness has all too often been reduced to immediate personal gratification. The crucial importance of optimism and confidence for financial liquidity (from which economic consequences follow) is being illustrated in the financial markets daily.

Subprime coming home to roost?

A rash of bankruptcies at subprime lenders prompted a market wobble in February and March but traders swiftly decided the problem was contained. Equity markets across the world continued to rally, while the credit market remained phenomenally high in historical terms, thanks in large part to the growth of credit derivatives. These prompted optimism that it had become easier to spread risk and so it was justifiable that even the riskiest companies could obtain credit cheaply.

That mood of optimism is over. Fear now rules the credit markets, where the effective cost of ensuring against a default, in both Europe and the US, has increased by more than half in barely a month. A steady drip of bad news has prompted fears that the subprime debacle could trigger a credit crunch, raising the cost of financing worldwide as investors are forced to sell healthy investments to make good their losses.

There is a great deal to the topic of psychologcal drivers for collective human behaviour, and emergent properties at the population level (ie herding behaviour), but I'm afraid you haven't really scratched the surface here.


For an academic take on the subject, I would recommend The Financial/Economic Dichotomy in Social Behavioral Dynamics: The Socionomic Perspective by Robert R Prechter Jr and Wayne D Parker in The Journal of Behavioral Finance (2007), Vol 8 (#2), pgs 84-108. (I can send you a copy if you're interested.)

Stoneleigh, thanks!

That was a very interesting film, even if it was mathematics before I had breakfast. The idea reminds me of Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" novels, first published about 50 yars ago, or Marx and Hegel's ideas of history. Whether these are true or not will depend on thir predictive capabilities, so they are objective thories of Sociology that can be tested.
Bob Ebersole

From the same site, this article by a USAF student:

Since this is likely to be a major apex of American global power.... It seems that the costs for the United States Air Force are rising at an ever faster rate while the economic infrastructure to support these expenditures is becoming ever more strained.

Chart 11 shows personnel costs have risen 51% over the last 10 years but that the number of personnel has remained relatively constant. Chart 14 shows that although aircraft readiness rates have remained relatively steady the costs to operate and maintain the fleet over the last decade are up 87%.


The toughest choice, and most politically unacceptable, would be to start reigning in military spending and social programs (Medicare, Social Security) and focus on national investment and productivity.


cfm in Gray, ME

EB picked up this story, and added a comment expressing surprise that so many of us rated ourselves happy or very happy.

I'm surprised anyone would be surprised by that. I think most people are reasonably happy. And I wouldn't expect peak oil to have much effect on that, at least long term.

Much research has shown that people tend to have a "happiness setpoint." Events will shift it short-term, but you eventually return to your natural setpoint. Even things you would think would be life-changing are not. The job of your dreams, marrying Mr. or Ms. Right, winning the lottery. Or, on the bad side, a bitter divorce, the death of a family member, becoming a paraplegic, going bankrupt. They may change your happiness for a couple of years, but not permanently.

Tanith Lee called this "the bitterness of joy." The bitterness of joy lies in the knowledge that it cannot last. Nor should joy last beyond a certain season, for, after that season, even joy would become merely habit.

I think in our discussion we are forgetting
another factor which is the effort to get that
money. Certainly you would be more happy to
get $1000 per month without doing any effort
for it than if you have to work for it. The
more work you have to do for it (longer hours,
tougher job) the more unhappy you would be. It
also explain one of the reasons why children are
always so happy.

Actually the opposite is true - to a point
People that 'earn' money as opposed to coming into it by windfall means, are much happier -can't find the source as Im running out the door but there is literature on this.

I agree with Nate. People are happier if they earn something than if it is just given to them.

People like to feel they deserve what they get (not that they're just lucky). And working for something makes you value it more.

I really think most people like the journey more than the destination, though they may not realize it. Like Spock said, "Having is not so desirable a thing as wanting." A lot of successful people look back on the days when they were young and struggling to make ends meet as the happiest of their lives.

if we do find a solution to eventual overshoot and peak oil, it is in there somewhere. Changing the destination and demonstrating that the journey might be just as fun with a new destination, lower energy...

I don't think we technically need to use less energy we can get plenty from wind/solar some biomass and bit of nuclear and
run of river type hydro or even other hydro designs that are environmentally sensitive. We do need a good way to store electricity but we have a few good methods now pumped storage, flywheel, hydraulic, batteries and super capacitors and also condensed liquids such as methane or nitrogen might be viable.
Also on the agriculture side we have a lot of science on using renewable methods.

What we need to quit doing is wasting resources and get our population under control. I think once thats done we won't have a energy problem. Solving these two problems is tough but the reality is if you consider suburban culture and throw away manufacturing a waste then we probably wast at least 80% of our energy and resources now.

How many countries have adequate access to fossil fuel infrastructure now? look at Africa for instance. Yet on our current path, we will somehow have the time AND money AND energy gain to transition to wind/solar/biomass/nuclear, and include developing countries as well?

I need to write a post about this. We DO have awesome, albeit diffuse, natural resources. But what we need to quantify is the fixed infrastructure vs marginal - how quickly can we switch. Economic malaise, wars, civil unrest, will not stay on hold while the engineers ponder solutions. A first attempt at this, the Hirsch report (which did not include ANY environmental externalities) said we need 20 years before Peak Oil to not have a significant liquid fuels shortfall.

There is a very concrete difference between HAVING enough theoretical energy in BTUS and DELIVERING it within a reasonable window of scale and flow to keep people 'happy'.

And I agree with you on population -it has been and will continue to be the elephant in the room (next to the brontosaurus which is economic growth - but I guess they are related)

"Changing the destination and demonstrating that the journey might be just as fun with a new destination, lower energy..."

You erroneously presuppose a destination ;-)

Actually as a student of human neurobiology you should be aware of the differences between the narratives we tell ourselves and the outside "reality." Those differences exist for the little internal narratives we tell each other to get through the day, and bigger narratives we share and reinforce at places like The Oil Drum.

It's interesting that that when I return for a quick look TOD is talking about one of my old themes. I went on about comparative national happiness, the hedonic treadmill, and Gilbert's happiness book more than once.

FWIW, I think I see a theme above. Some commentators sort of fit happiness within a peak oil framework (narrative) rather than vis-versa.

What happens if we start it the other way?

Most people get up in the morning with two eyes on today, and glances forward, to see what's coming. It's a fairly practical way to live, even in our modern industrial societies. We don't want to make our boss too angry tomorrow morning, but we still want to be ready for next summer's vacation, or a retirement decades further down the line.

The interesting question is how much attention needs to be focussed specifically on peak oil? There are a lot of problems that might crop up between tomorrow morning and retirement: disease, wars, floods, recessions, earthquakes.

In fact a lot of those have jumped up and bitten people even as we were discussing peak oil.

My conclusion was that in an unpredictable world we are better off following the human model, with two eyes on today, glancing forward. Take care of friends and family, diet and exercise, work and savings ... and then sure, glance ahead and make "insurance policies" for what might come down the pike.

(It's certainly ass-backwards to do it the other way, to invest everything in one particular 'destination' and to view today's happiness through that filter.)

I hear what you're saying, but as a student of evolutionary biology, I believe we do need a 'destination' - we need a carrot which tells us our daily activities are in the vein they are supposed to be to lead to better reproductive activities and better chance of our offspring surviving - in the past this has meant moving up the mating ladder and/or having more resources. Now, we believe that having more 'money' is synonomous with the feelings we once got from slaying a mastodon, feeding the tribe, etc.

I think we need a destination - long term dreams and goals, in addition to waking up and providing for the here and now. I am proposing 'dreaming' of being something other than bankers, lawyers and real estate barons - I am unclear 'what' that something is yet.

(I've been camping for a week.)

I think it's interesting that two popular books are about giving up these sorts of narrative predictions (journey, destination, etc.) precisely to better understand our happiness and our risks:

Stumbling on Happiness, by Daniel Gilbert

The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Without intending to, they provide a sort of antidote to peak oil obsession.

So while it is not surprising to me that a student of evolutionary biology would identify the human desire for predictive narrative ... I might just ask if providing an alternate narrative is really as good (for risk and happiness) as an anti-narrative.

Shorter: my answer to the Hedonic Treadmill was not to play it better, or to try to change the rules, but instead to hop off.

I have observed that many middle-class people have contracted the diease of "not enoughness". Not enough time, money, sleep, sex etc. The only thing people seem to have enough of is bad food, bad televison and bad attitudes! Complaining seems to have become epidemic. I agree with you memmel, gratefullness has become a mythological concept that few can grasp. Even though carrots have been placed in front of people, they say it's not the "right" carrot so there-fore it's not good enough. Bring on the anti-depressents! Better to be numb than to experience life at all, life can be sooo painful! Most forget - life is supposed to get a little uncomfortable from time to time, otherwise how would we know when we were really having a blast? My Grama has always said, "Be grateful for what you have, there is always someone worse off than you and it can all be gone as quickly as it came." Smart lady - glad she's my Grama!

Adult human minds are the most difficult things to change in the world - and it is our minds that most need to be changed in order to avert peak oil consequences.

The "More, Bigger, Better = More Happiness" consumption mindset is one of the original causes of peak oil, global warming, and other human-induced disasters waiting to happen.

"Modern,civilized" human beings primarily consider their own happiness first, and consider the happiness of the world second - if at all. Most individuals, corporations, & governments don't really care about the world - so naturally, the result is an uncared for world. This is why the state of the world is as it is today - neglected, deterioriating, and on the verge of collapse.

Only when individuals, corporations, & governments prioritize the world before themselves, does humanity have a chance of survival. Attempts at technological revolutions will either fail - or they'll succeed, which only fuel our hunger for consumption. So a mental revolution is needed. Consume less, use less, drive less, spend less - and share more. Otherwise, people & institutions will continue to selfishly pursue their own relative definitions of happiness, at the expense of sacrificing the long-term good of the world.

Most people do not see that their own survival is directly tied in with the survival of the world - that the interest of the world & their own self-interest are ultimately the same.

But low consumption & "simple/frugal living" (plus lower corporate profits) is considered by the vast majority of citizens in "developed countries" as African-esque material poverty, which is why it is highly unlikely that Change in the US will occur in time to avert peak oil or global warming consequences.

We think it's normal for Africans, Indians, & Chinese to want to be "rich" like us & to desire the "American Way of Life"... when it's our American Way that is unsustainable. So in actuality, perhaps it is we who should take leadership and make progress towards a low consumption way of life.

A large part of the problem is that the lazy and simple incerase in consumption has been choosen before the sophisticated. It would be constructive with less bling-bling stereo and more Ipod. Less overfull wardrobe and more carefuly choosen and tailor made and tailor modified clothes. Less SUV and more tiny and fun to drive sport car or a more practical station wagons. Smaller and better planned houses with the windows, insulation and other components placed where they are most usefull. Less lawn and more sculpted trees. Fewer weekend vacations and slower and longer journeys giving time to see other places and culture.