Chapter 41Balancing Individuality and Community in Public Policy


We humans are social animals. We come with a need to belong, to connect, to bond. When those needs are met, through intimate friendships and equitable marriages, self-reported happiness runs high and children generally thrive. This chapter describes the need to belong, documents the links between close relationships and subjective well-being, identifies some benefits and costs of modern individualism, and suggests how communitarian public policies might respect both essential liberties and communal well-being.

Who Is Happy?

Who lives with the greatest happiness and life satisfaction? The last quarter-century has offered some surprising, and some not-so-surprising, answers. Self-reported well-being is not much predicted from knowing a person's age or gender (Myers, 1993, 2000). Despite a smoothing of the emotional terrain as people age, and contrary to rumors of midlife crises and later-life angst, happiness is about equally available to healthy men and women of all ages. At all of life's ages and stages, there are many happy people and fewer unhappy. Moreover, despite striking gender differences in ailments such as depression (afflicting more women) and alcoholism (afflicting more men), happiness does not have a favorite gender.

So, who are the relatively happy people?

  • As Tay and Diener (2011) indicate, some cultures (especially those where people enjoy political freedom with basic needs met) are ...

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