Progress Paradox

The Progress Paradox, by Gregg Easterbrook, was published in 2003. It highlights the idea that even though Western life has improved over the past century, people are unhappier today than in previous generations. This feeling of discontent is a prevailing problem in our culture, even though things may seem vastly different from how they began as technology progresses we are reverting back in overall happiness. The author bases many of his assumptions on three decades of research, centering the theories and understanding of “positive psychology.” The progress paradox explores how 9/11 and common problems related to crime and global warming have an affect on societal satisfaction.

What is the Progress Paradox?

The Progress Paradox defines a concept that as life gets better people feel worse. In the book, Easterbrook provides tips for dealing with the problems of everyday life. It is a common belief that the parents of previous generations had it better. However, this belief encourages the argument that life today is filled with unhappiness, depression and stress due to the rise in living standards.

Main Points

  • Nearly every standard of living measurement shows that the average person’s life is considerably better than it was 50 years ago
  • Despite these improvements, people report feeling more unhappy than ever
  • Based on the discrepancy between standard of living and actual satisfaction levels, living standards do not appear to actually make people any happier
  • People still can find happiness in modern society by looking for it in the right places
  • Volunteerism is one of the most effective routes to personal satisfaction


Eastbrook’s findings reveal that many of the problems that continue to permeate Western culture have their roots in the pursuit of self-interest. But as Easterbrook has discovered, there is plenty of truth to the old cliché, “Money can’t buy happiness.” Instead, argues Easterbrook, happiness is a simple choice. A person can be happy if they truly want to, regardless of circumstances. The key to finding happiness does not lie in material wealth; it has more to do with one’s dedication to helping others.

The Progress Paradox is packed with information but never comes off as a dry read, due to Easterbrook’s ability to turn the book into a compelling story, rather than a historical lecture.