The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) in London recently published the results of a large scale research study on happiness. The publication, entitled "And the Pursuit of Happiness: Well Being and the Role of Government" can be downloaded from the IEA website here: http://www.iea.org.uk/publications/research/and-the-pursuit-of-happiness. (Click on the link that says "download publication for free").
The publication is divided into different sections with different authors. One particular section, written by Marc Devos, is called "The Unbearable Lightness of Happiness Policy." Devos talks about the fact that Western societies tend to promote hedonistic happiness. This is, Devos asserts, reflected in how happiness research is conducted, namely by measuring the level and frequency of positive emotions against the level and frequency of negative emotions. Efforts to increase the overall level of happiness in society focus on promoting activities that offer immediate pleasure: relaxing, watching television, going out to dinner, taking a vacation, socializing, or shopping. Devos argues that this is a very superficial approach to happiness. I agree.
A society dominated by consumption and materialism breeds desire. For most people, desire is an insatiable state. We see something we want and we buy it. Immediately, we experience positive feelings associated with our new purchase. These feelings, however, are always transient. Over time, the novelty wears off. We may still like what we purchased but it no longer generates the same degree of positive emotions it once did. Eventually, we see something else we desire and the process beings again. Desire can never be permanently satisfied. No matter what we acquire or even what we achieve, if we do it for the sake of pure personal pleasure we will eventually find ourselves wanting more.
Pursuing hedonistic happiness encourages people to seek out things that make them feel good. Success becomes measured by having the means to obtain goods and experiences that stimulate positive emotions. In Western cultures, this means that people with the most money are considered the most successful.
If hedonism leads to desire then desire, being insatiable, leads to greed. We constantly crave more, more, more in our efforts to experience positive feelings and to avoid experiencing negative ones. There is no enough; we always want more. The more we want more, the more we are willing to do anything to get it; greed flourishes.