The Progress Paradox: Doing Better, Feeling Worse (Part 1 of 3)

By: Patrick Williams

Maybe you've noticed this too: As a society, we’re achieving more yet feeling worse. Even when well paid, we’re dissatisfied. Most of us accomplish plenty but lack feelings of well-being.

While every metric of society is improving worldwide, our happiness levels are declining — and the more we have and achieve, the less successful we feel. This phenomenon is known as the “progress paradox.”

In a worldwide survey of happiness, the United States ranked a dismal 23rd. Between 1972 and 2004, Americans’ real buying power doubled, yet our feelings of financial security dropped by 34%. The number of people who felt very happy with their lives dropped by 31%. And this was reported before the financial crisis and recession of 2008.

Depression rates are up (and affecting younger children), stress levels are high, and financial insecurity is common. People everywhere report feeling isolated and disconnected from one another. We crave meaning and fulfillment in our work and family life.

I see this and hear about it all the time from the clients I coach. Maybe you feel it yourself?

The latest psychological research challenges some of our most commonly held beliefs about satisfaction and well-being:

  • While a high IQ can help you at work, only 25% of one’s professional success is predicted by it.
  • Your environment can affect your level of happiness, but not to the extent you may think.
  • Hard work helps you achieve success, but it won’t necessarily pay off in feelings of satisfaction and well-being.