Riding the Happiness Curve
Updated: Jan 9
On my 50th birthday – just this past week – my wife sent me an article reviewing Jonathan Rauch’s new book, The Happiness Curve. In his book, Rauch reviews the scientific and economic literature on happiness and concludes that – barring external adverse circumstances - personal happiness starts to grow after age 50.
It’s a refreshing change from the stereotypical “mid-life crisis.” His view of the data is rather that the evidence points to a mid-life “slump,” and we are better equipped to emerge from it through a focus on connection rather than competition. As we age, research shows that older people feel less stress and regret, dwell less on negative information and are better able to regulate their emotions.
Why bring this up in an AIQUEOUS newsletter? In addition to this being my 50th birthday, it also marks the 30th anniversary of the start of my career in water and energy. During the 1988 Drought (which I experienced firsthand), we also as a society were introduced to the “Greenhouse Effect.” I’ve been wondering about what’s changed in the past 30 years, and digging into the numbers has produced some surprising findings:
The world population has grown from 5.1 billion in 1988 to 7.6 billion in 2018.
Carbon dioxide emissions have grown from 21,750 MtCO2 in 1988 to 36,183 MtCO2 today.
Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have increased from 350 parts per million (ppm) in 1988 to 410 ppm today.
Renewable energy production in the United States has nearly doubled from 6,040 trillion Btu in 1990 to 11,140 trillion Btu in 2017, now accounting for 17% of U.S. electricity production.
U.S. energy intensity is only half as high today of its levels in 1990, and 60% of that reduction has come from energy efficiency improvements (as opposed to structural economic changes).
As more independent surveys express concern by professionals on water availability and studies solidify evidence of climate change, population and carbon emission trends over the past 30 years suggest an intractable problem.
How is this relevant to the “Happiness Curve”? Personally, my perspective on these data has shifted from one of dismay to one of faith. Having 30 years of work experience allows me to see the number of people bringing passion, ingenuity, and creativity into society. This type of transformation – a shift to a more efficient, less carbon- and resource-intense economy – happens slowly and gradually. And, even though the task won’t be mine to complete, I’m not allowed to take a pass on it, either.
At AIQUEOUS today, I get to work with a small team of committed people looking to amplify the positive effects of our clients and partners. It’s certainly possible – and sometimes too easy – to tap into the stress and negative information that surrounds us. My goal now is to focus on connections – with our team, with our clients, with our partners, and yes with our competition. I look forward to seeing what the next 30 years will bring.