What is a Normal Amount of Sadness?

Carol Graham posted some interesting data over at Brookings.

Before I dig in, one caveat: all of this data is based on surveys, which I find useful but always take with a grain of salt.

In my opinion, revealed behavior is much more useful data than that which comes from surveys.

All that being said, here’s the chart:

poverty stress


1. The Physical Pain Numbers are Striking

~37% of people living in poverty report suffering from physical pain, while only ~16% of the rich report such ills.

There have been periods in my life when I’ve suffered from physical pain, and these periods were not  good. Physical pain affects everything from mood to ability to work to relationships.

I hope Obamacare and other such health interventions reduce these rates.

2. There’s Not Much Difference Between the Middle Class and the Rich

Nearly every category is within ~5% reporting rates across the middle class and the rich. Once you hit middle class levels, it appears that money can’t buy you reduced stress, anger, worry, pain, or sadness.

This might, depending on your views, lead you to believe that poverty reduction should be a greater policy focus than middle income stagnation.

3. Causation and Correlation Issues  

Particularly when it comes to something like physical pain, it could be that the source of the pain caused the poverty, and not that poverty is causing the pain.

4. What is Normal? What is Optimal?

Whenever I read data like this, I wonder: what is normal?

Over the course of humanity, what would average trend lines look like?

Humans are not designed to be happy machines.

At any point in time, some of his are going to be feeling stressed, angry, or sad.

If we optimized our environment, psychology, culture, etc. – what would optimal levels look like?

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