On page 32 of the November 2002 Scientific American, there's an article "Calculus of Happiness: Assessing Subjective Well-Being Across Societies," summarizing the work of political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Hans-Dieter Klingemann. It turns out that "contrary to what some pessimists believe, most people almost everywhere who live above a bare subsistence level are happy" and "above about $13,000 of gross domestic product per capita ... additional income does not seem to enhance reported well-being."
I guess what I'm reacting to is the characterization, unfortunately common in otherwise well-meaning activist circles, of the entire world outside of the U.S. and Europe as being a uniform mass of unhappiness. Not only does research fail to bear this grim characterization out, but honestly as an assumption it's starting to seem a bit condescending: what are you really saying about another culture if you believe they're incapable of even being happy without the luxury items that you yourself have rejected, just as they're supposedly incapable of maintaining their cultural traditions without our help? And on that subject, who are we to assume that the whole world is our museum, and that anyone SHOULD maintain cultural traditions that they're no longer interested in maintaining, just because we happen to find them quaint?