There is strong evidence, using a range of happiness measures, worldwide surveys, and diverse methodologies, to show that people who are poor are more miserable than people who are not. And they do not, as some have suggested, get used to their circumstances: poverty starts bad and stays bad. Caring about happiness means we care about people who are poor. Moreover, in general, rising income inequality also acts as a barrier to achieving greater happiness. People from the US and the UK are happier during periods of low income inequality, as are people in Japan, urban China, and Latin America. There are, however, some exceptions though: in rural China, for example, greater inequality has been associated with greater wellbeing. This suggests that income inequality may sometimes serve as a signal of opportunity, depending on how fair the opportunities to earn more are perceived to be.
Bad health is bad for happiness, too. Using happiness data, I have been able to show just how much various bad health conditions matter to how we feel and think about our lives. Using traditional methods of economic evaluation, which ask people how many years of life they are willing to give up not to have a health problem, people consider having moderate anxiety or depression to be about as bad as having some problems walking about. Happiness data turns this finding on its head, revealing that having anxiety or depression is about ten times as bad as having some problems walking about. There are a number of reasons for this, but the bottom line is that having anxiety or depression is usually more attention-seeking than having problems walking about. Caring about happiness means that we care about people’s health, especially their mental health.