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Contentment is difficult to measure and so is misery. Might there be value in making some objective measures to these conditions to give us perspective and thereby a provide a little stability to our emotions. Objective measures of global misery might be — total deaths per year, number of hungry people, number of war casualties, and these have reasonably good statistics from the UN. But can these be balanced off against an objective measure of global happiness, well-being or contentment — how would we define those? And what would be an objective measure of these? Perhaps the total number of births implies a well being of their mothers, and a thus a sufficiency of food resources. What would be a counter balance to military deaths but the total number of people not victims? Those are strange thoughts. Where might they lead us if we pursue them?

Milder forms of misery and contentment might be charted here in the United States, where the above measures are not in play at the moment. When people are willing to buy new homes, it implies they are feeling optimistic and they expect to remain relatively solvent for many years to come. So, a rise in new housing construction should imply access to contentment for the whole country, a feeling that all is right with the world. Conversely the loss of employment would indicate a general feeling of despair and hopelessness and a diminution of the access to contentment. Not even a sage can feel contented when he is cold, hungry and nauseous – well, maybe some of them could, but it’s rare.

Unhappiness chart

American unhappiness compared with unemployment and housing stats 1968 - 2011

From the Business Insider, we see an objective comparative measure of American unhappiness, which at its present level (2011) hasn’t been approached since 1991, some twenty years ago and before our youngest voters, now considered adults, were even born. There is a strange thing relative to those young adults perceptions of happiness; they have been raised in an era of abundance of food and of fantastically accelerating computer power. Their world has been shaped by the continual improvement of what was most important to them. Since few them have experienced extreme poverty and want of basic necessities like food and shelter, their emotional state might not be best measured by the housing and employment statistics. For these young people their access to good computers and cell phones might seem far more important because it gives them access to what they want in the world.

Access to high tech doesn’t give one contentment, that is an inner state of accepting one’s personal world as it exists, but it does give a person some pleasures and potentially a grander perspective on the external world. Hi-tech access to the world provides everyone with opportunities to live a more interesting life, but it may not offer much in ways to escape misery if it comes. When war, famine, pestilence and death are in our face a cell phone and computer won’t help most people much. Only the mythical sages can find contentment during those adversities. However, it does seem that, at the moment, the cell phone and the internet are having a tremendous effect in toppling corrupt governments, so in that way these high tech items are reducing misery and increasing the opportunity that contentment might arise. Toppling governments are times of turmoil so in the short run most people will have serious problems. What can the individual do?

Arrange your life situation so contentment is possible and misery impossible.