Morality is the quest for the good life, and the good life, in the opinion of many, must partake of happiness. That is an old ideal, harking back to the Greeks, and it ranks among the few shared by philosophers and what I would describe as normal people. Yet it has always raised the same perplexing questions: if the good life is a happy life, what is the path to happiness? Is it worldly success? Wealth? Power? The enjoyment of sensuality? The “pleasures of the mind“?
David R. Francis at csmonitor.com reports on research done by two economists on large-scale surveys asking about the causes of happiness. It turns out that wealth helps, but not much. A far surer route to happiness is a faithful marriage. Being economists, these researchers have worked out the dollar value of married bliss: $100,000. (One wag offered to turn his wife in for the money.) Francis goes on:
One other recent paper by the two economists entitled “Money, Sex, and Happiness,” is getting a lot of attention because it spells out the sexual relations of Americans and their measured effect on happiness. Blanchflower describes the paper as an “incredibly moral” one that should please “the Pope.”
That’s because it finds, for instance, that those in a monogamous, faithful marriage are the happiest. In the dry language of the paper, “The happiness- maximizing number of sexual partners in the previous year is one.”
Those who cheat on their spouses are less happy. Those who have ever paid for sex are much less happy than others. So are those who divorce.
I have no idea why the paper is “getting a lot of attention,” unless the news that happily married couples are happier than most is a surprise to someone. Possibly, there are academics who think happiness ought to be the consequence of liberated self-expression, or of government programs, or of the correct economic relations. But the ancient moralists never doubted that the best hope of happiness was found in a virtuous life.