Alejandro Cencerrado: The scientist of happiness: “Wealth increases while well-being decreases” | science and technology
– How is your day? Do you feel happy?
– Not bad, I’d give it a six for now.
Scientist Alejandro Cencerrado is having a great day, albeit a bit cloudy in Madrid, the Spanish capital. We go for a bike ride along the banks of the city’s Manzanares River. Cycling is one of the activities that improves well-being the most. Cencerrado knows it well: since he was 17, he has been recording his daily happiness score, from 1 to 10, in a diary, where he also notes what affects his mood. “When I was a kid, certain episodes where my parents argued a lot made me very unhappy,” he recalls. “I couldn’t understand why we were unhappy when we had everything.”
This practice of recording his emotional well-being has made him a good candidate for the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, where he is following the same process, but on a larger scale. Armed with his degree in physical sciences, Cencerrado analyzes data from thousands of people in an effort to better understand the dynamics of happiness and its importance in designing public policy.
“With my algorithm, I can compare what kind of culture or company makes people happier,” says Cencerrado, who recently published his findings in a new book titled In defense of infelicity (or, In defense of misfortune).
Discussions about the science of happiness typically bring up the wellness industry, self-help books, and mugs with positive messages. But that has little to do with well-being. “I guess it will help someone, I think one of its faults is to make us believe that happiness is simple and that it depends on us: I did not see that in my analysis”, explains Cencerrado. What he saw in his data is that happiness is highly dependent on social context, work, free time, and material conditions. “If we really want to have a welfare state, we have to start asking people how they feel,” he says.
Measuring progress by comparing gross domestic product (GDP) made sense when material deprivation was greater. But now that survival is more or less assured, another way will have to be found, he says. “We see more and more problems with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and we don’t know what to do, because progress is measured by wealth, which is increasing in many countries while well- be down,” he explains. .
His proposal, and that of his institute, is to scientifically measure well-being. The main threats to happiness are loneliness, mental illness, crisis of confidence and growing social inequalities. “We have everything our grandparents would have wanted…and we’re not very good either. Is progress what we thought it was?
After a half-life of analyzing his happiness, Cencerrado says he’s no happier now than he was before (and he has the data to back it up). He didn’t rate any of his days as 10 out of 10. So what was all this good for? Well, in addition to giving him a mission in life and the focus of his work, it taught him to accept misfortune.
Happiness has a strange dynamic, it tends to be elusive, it works by contrast, and you tend to get used to the good quickly, he says. Dissatisfaction, in fact, is what motivates us to get out of bed every morning. “I think we should all do this analysis, in the end it’s positive, because we’re very emotionally illiterate,” Cencerrado says. “We must learn to share our vulnerability.”