In 1957, as economist John Kenneth Galbraith was describing the United States as The Affluent Society, Americans’ per-person income was about $9,000. Today, the United States is a doubly affluent society. With double the spending power, we now own twice as many cars per person, eat out twice as often, and are supported by a whole new world of technology. Since 1960 we have also seen the proportion of households with dishwashers rise from 7% to 60%, clothes dryers from 20% to 74%, and air-conditioning from 15% to 86%.
Yet, since 1957, the number of Americans who say they are “very happy” has declined from 35% to 32%. Twice as rich and apparently no happier. Furthermore, the divorce rate has doubled, the teen suicide rate has more than doubled, and more people than ever (especially teens and young adults) are depressed.
We might call this soaring wealth and shrinking spirit “the American Paradox.” More than ever, we have big houses and broken homes, high incomes and low morale, more comfortable cars and more road rage. We excel at making a living but often fail at making a life. We celebrate our prosperity but yearn for purpose. We cherish our freedoms but long for connection. In an age of plenty, we feel spiritual hunger.