Published in: European Psychologist, 2005, special section on 'Human development and Well-being', vol. 10, pp. 330-343
Human society has changed much over the last centuries and this process of 'modernization' has profoundly affected the lives of individuals; currently we live quite different lives from those forefathers lived only five generations ago. There is difference of opinion as to whether we live better now than before, and consequently there is also disagreement as to whether we should continue modernizing or rather try to slow the process down.
Quality-of-life in a society can be measured by how long and happy its inhabitants live. Using these indicators I assess whether societal modernization has made life better or worse. Firstly I examined findings of present day survey research. I started with a cross-sectional analysis of 90 nations and found that people live longer and happier in today's most modern societies. Secondly I examined trends in 10 modern nations over the last 30 years and found that happiness and longevity have increased in most cases. Thirdly I considered the long-term and review findings from historical and comparative anthropology, which show that we lived better in the early hunter-gatherer society than in the later agrarian society.
Together these data suggest that societal evolution has worked out differently for the quality of human life, first negatively, in the change from a hunter-gatherer existence to agriculture, and next positively, in the more recent transformation from an agrarian to an industrial society. We live now longer and happier than ever before.