“The Progress Paradox” Quotes

Here’s the quotes I found most interesting from The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse by Gregg Easterbrook. If you like the quotes, please buy the book here.

“At the beginning of the twentieth century, the average American lifespan was forty-one years; now it is seventy-seven years.” (xiv)

“Unipolar depression, the condition in which a person simply always feels blue, is today ten times as prevalent as it was half a century ago.” (xvi)

“Perhaps, at some structural level, for every old problem solved, a new problem will always be created, meaning we should not expect a better life to improve happiness.” (xvii)

“It is a prediction that ever more millions will expect both pleasant living standards and a broad sense that their lives possess purpose.” (xix)

“Ultimately we should be glad society is creating the leisure and prosperity that allows people by the millions to feel depressed, for it’s better to be prosperous, free, and unhappy than other possibilities.” (xix)

“New psychological research suggests it is in your self interest to be forgiving, grateful, and optimistic – that these presumptively altruistic qualities are actually essential to personal well-being.” (xix)

“For at least a century, Western life has been dominated by a revolution of rising expectations: Each generation expected more than its antecedent. Now most Americans and Europeans already have what they need, in addition to considerable piles of stuff they don’t need.” (33)

“Americans and Western Europeans live in mainly favorable conditions, yet are experiencing a sense of letdown, as many no longer can dream that the years to come will bring them significantly more than they already possess.” (33)

“Since smoking suppresses the appetite, it is likely there is a relationship between the decline in cigarette use and the rise in overweight Americans.” (51)

“Having a child before age twenty is closely associated with ending up impoverished.” (54)

“Statistics show that in order to avoid becoming poor in the United States, you must do three things: graduate from high school, marry after the age of twenty, and marry before having your first child.” (54)

“According to the WHO, four times as many people globally died in traffic accidents than in any form of combat – 1.3 million traffic deaths versus 300,000 deaths from war. That car crashes currently pose a greater threat to the citizens of earth than combat is surely progress in the right direction.” (72)

“What we have before us are some breathtaking opportunities disguised as insoluble problems.” (77)

“For essentially all of human history until the last few generations, the typical person’s lot has been unceasing toil, meager living circumstances, uncertainty about food, rudimentary health care, limited education, little travel or entertainment; all followed by early death.” (82)

“Typically, regardless of how much money an American today earns, he or she estimates that twice as much is required to “live well.”” (84)

“The sense that new problems always arise to replace the old is one reason people are reluctant to believe life is getting better, and there is a certain logic to this position.” (85)

“The mobility of the private car has the paradoxical effect of lengthening how far people go rather than saving them time.” (90)

“The more television a person watches, the more likely he or she is to overestimate the prevalence of crime, or to believe that crime is rising even if it is actually in decline.” (112)

“As ever more material things become available and fail to make us happy, material abundance may even have the perverse effect of instilling unhappiness – because it will never be possible to have everything that economics can create.” (124)

“If you don’t have the things of the world you are unhappy, but having the things of the world may do no service to your well-being.” (125)

“The average American gave $953 to charity in 2002, versus $15 on average in Japan.” (131)

“Once focused on wants our thoughts can never be at peace, because wants can never be satisfied; not even a billionaire will ever have everything. Wants, by definition, are impossible to satisfy, thought you may placate them now and then. Seeking to placate the pang of want through acquisition can become like habituation to a drug – you need to keep buying more and more to get the same high, and the high wears off faster all the time.” (137)

“A person’s sense that he or she must have ever more possessions, because others expect him or her to have ever more possessions, can make Americans and Europeans feel discontent even as they become more materially comfortable.” (140)

“You would not want to live in a society where physicians and cab drivers earn the same – particularly, you would not want to get sick in such a society.” (153)

“Any free-market system inevitably will have unequal results because individuals have unequal talents, exert unequal effort, and experience unequal luck.” (154)

“Comedian Henry Youngman once quipped, “What good is happiness? It can’t buy money?” (161)

“Happy people commit fewer crimes, donate more to charity, perform more volunteer work, are more likely to aid strangers, and exhibit other traits of virtuous citizenship.” (166)

“Researches find a higher sense of well being among the old than the young. The minds of the young are full of all the things they want to achieve and have not, whereas most of the elderly have either achieved what they wanted or made peace with the fact that they never will,” Edward Diener explains.” (169)

“A person needs food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, and transportation; once attained, these needs are fulfilled. Wants, by contrast, can never be satisfied. The more you want, the more likely you are to feel disgruntled; the more you acquire, the more likely you are to feel controlled by your own possessions.” (171)

“As incomes rise, people stop thinking, “Does my house meet my needs?” and instead, “Is my house nicer than the neighbor’s?” (173)

“A person with middling but rising income may be happier than a person with a high but stagnant income. A person with a small house who expects to move into a medium house may be happier than a person with a large house who knows it is the largest he will ever own.” (173)

“Parents and schools teach the concept of delayed gratification, of always looking ahead while keeping the nose to the grindstone. Many people learn this lesson so well that they can only look ahead, growing excessively concerned about future improvement.” (175)

““We are much better at preparing to live than at living,” the Buddhist philosopher Thich Nhat Hanh has written.” (175)

“The human yearning for love and intimacy is part of our evolution – even that, chemically, the brain evolved a need for closeness as part of the stimuli that make it function correctly.” (178)

“Research has show that human beings are happiest around other people.” (179)

“Generally, psychological damage is thought to accumulate over a lifetime, growing more acute among the afflicted as they age. (181)

“if your life is centered in family, community, faith, or nation, and things aren’t going well for you, surely here will be some person or some part of an institution to whom you are connected for whom or where things are going well, or, at least, where the problems seem more important than yours. If, however, your life is centered on pure individualism and something goes poorly, there is no counterweight. You feel bad and nothing pulls no you in the other direction.” (182)

“Focus on raising self-esteem, which is supposed to make people feel good, results in them becoming depressed.” (183)

“Everyone has setbacks, or bad days, or simply periods of time when things are boring or crummy; don’t obsess because you’ll have better days.” (183)

“Depressed patients often blame their parents for their condition, but once recovered from depression, usually stop blaming parents and describe their former claims as a crutch.” (185)

“We are built to be effective animals, not happy ones,” pronounced Robert Wright.” (188)

“We are born with DNA coded for discontentment, because in our past, discontent was a survival strategy.” (189)

“In the year 1850, for example, the typical American was twice as likely to be the target of a lawsuit as the typical American today.” (191)

“Studies of rats show that, once they learn a fear, chemical pathways form in the brain that allow them to learn additional fears more quickly in the future. Essentially, stress and phobias can snowball, gathering up more of themselves and acquiring a momentum of their own.” (193)

“Today families are more time-stressed, but back then many parents felt it was inappropriate for children to dine with adults, and deliberately avoided family meals; the two factors roughly wash each other out.” (194)

“Those who watch television until lights out tend to have less deep sleep than those who engage in a quiet activity.” (197)

“In past generations, many social outcomes operated in similar fashion, beyond the average person’s control and, thus, no reflection upon him or her. Today freedom and choice in all things create a pressure that previously did not exist, and can make whatever does not work out in your life seem a reflection of you. This problem might be called “the choice penalty.”” (201)

“Positive psychology tells us we should be more grateful and more forgiving.” (227)

“That being forgiving is good for you, in addition to the person you forgive, is among the most compelling findings of positive psychology.” (229)

“Positive psychology finds that people who take a grateful attitude toward life, counting their blessings rather than inventorying their complaints, tend to be healthier, happier, and more successful than others.” (229)

“The willingness to forgive is essential to keeping a marriage together.” (231)

“As a group, senior citizens, not the attractive and energetic young, have the highest sense of well-being.” (235)

“If you’re fully aware of your disappointments but at the same time thankful for the good that has happened and for your chance to live, you may show higher indices of well-being.” (240)

“Forgiveness, gratitude, conviviality, and related mental states are active conditions that require effort to achieve. You can have these worldviews, but you’ve got to work at it. By contrast, nothing is easier to attain than a bitter outlook on life.” (244)

“There are people who would feel ill at ease, even angry, if the recriminations they nurse magically disappeared.” (245)

“Commentators have for centuries been supposing that the end of materialism was just around the corner, and all such forecasts have been wrong.” (247)

“That the global population is growing not because of more births, but because of fewer deaths, demonstrates how rapidly medical care has improved in the developing world.” (286)

“That Islam was once on top and now is not – that Islamic fortunes have declined so much that Western troops build airbases and barracks on Holy Land soil and Muslims lack the strength or will to order them to depart – constitutes “the roots of Muslim rage,” according to Bernard Lewis.” (297)

“All superpowers of the past have grown complacent and eventually lost ground.” (298)

““Jihad,” in Koranic usage and in most Islamic theology, means a person’s individual struggle to find the path toward God in a sinful world.” (300)

If you liked the quotes, please buy the book.

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