In the 1970's, economist Richard Easterlin asked a simple question that economists have been trying to answer for decades: Why aren't we happier with economic growth?
Some sociologists point to The Hedonic Treadmill as the answer. In other words, we get bored of the things we have by virtue of simply having them. New toys get boring, and we become unsatisfied with them once they’re ours.
Others argue that we aren't happy because we spend too much time trying to keep up with others (see: the Kardashians).
But now, economists have found another element that may be responsible for our dissatisfaction: advertising.
According to a new paper from the Center for Economic Policy Research, more wealth leads to more advertising, and more advertising leads to more unhappiness. European researchers analyzed extensive life satisfaction surveys from over 24 countries over decades and compared the results to each country's advertising spending every year.
They found that "increases in national advertising expenditure are followed by significant declines in levels of life satisfaction."
“Rises and falls in advertising are followed, a small number of years later, by falls and rises in national life-satisfaction,” they wrote.
The researchers accounted for differences in individual economic and personal characteristics, business-cycle factors, and a variety of other variables in their study.
Their study “is consistent with the hypothesis that, although rises in GDP may ceteris paribus be beneficial, the benefits of economic growth are somewhat offset by a rise in advertising expenditure.”