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Mr. ERIC WEINER (Author, "The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World"): No matter your political persuasion, chances are, you believe in this simple formula. A strong economy equals happiness, and conversely, a weak economy equals unhappiness.

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

Commentator Eric Weiner.

Mr. WEINER: There is only one problem. It's not true. America is four times wealthier than it was in 1950, yet we are no happier according to many surveys. Wealth, it turns out, is subject to the law of diminishing returns. Beyond a certain point, it takes a lot more money to make us just a little bit happier. Look, I realize that if you've lost your job or your home, you're not likely to be happy. But for most of us, that is thankfully not the case.

We might be anxious about the economy, worried, but that doesn't mean we're miserable. It takes a lot to shake our national happiness. The attacks of September 11th, horrific as they were, did not do so, according to surveys conducted shortly afterwards. If there is such a thing as a happiness bubble, it's a much tougher, resilient bubble than the stock and real estate ones that have burst recently.

So, what exactly does make us happy? Study after study has found that the answer is, in two words, other people. Warm, caring relationships, high levels of trust, strong families, none of which, of course, has anything to do with the Dow or the NASDAQ or our favorite economic parameter, gross domestic product, GDP, a sort of national cash register that tallies everything. Everything, except in the words of Robert Kennedy, the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages or the intelligence of our public debate.

A few countries are trying to correct this imbalance. The tiny Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan has implemented a policy of gross national happiness. The French and even the dour British are also toying with the idea of a national happiness index. There's no reason why we couldn't do the same. It's far from infallible, happiness being such a slippery, subjective thing, but it would do no harm. I can envision a day when the NHI, or National Happiness Index, flickers across our TV screens. Perhaps then we'll realize what we've known all along, it's the only number that really matters.

SEABROOK: Eric Weiner is the author of "The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search For the Happiest Places in the World." You can weigh in on Eric's happiness index. Go to the opinion section of our website, npr.org.

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