Gaudium et Spes 35 fine tunes what was said earlier about the value of human activity on the plan of God. The improvement of individuals, groups, and society as a whole is a good thing. As individuals and groups transcend self-improvement, growth above and beyond the comfort zone is more valued than material riches:
Human activity, to be sure, takes its significance from its relationship to (humankind). Just as it proceeds from (them), so it is ordered toward (them). For when (people work they) not only alter things and society, (they develop themselves) as well. (They) learn much, (they) cultivate (their) resources, (they go) outside of (themselves) and beyond (themselves). Rightly understood this kind of growth is of greater value than any external riches which can be garnered. (People are) more precious for what (they are) than for what (they have). (cf. Paul VI, address to the diplomatic corps Jan 7 1965: AAS 57 (1965), p. 232)
This is especially true in matters of social justice. Medical advances, for example, are more valuable for the good they do than the profits they garner for owners, investors, and even workers. Advancement in sociology, in a better and more harmonious rendering of society in other words, is more valuable than technological improvement.
Similarly, all that (they) do to obtain greater justice, wider (communion), a more humane disposition of social relationships has greater worth than technical advances. For these advances can supply the material for human progress, but of themselves alone they can never actually bring it about.
Advancement without a heart: this is not progress, according to the Church.
Hence, the norm of human activity is this: that in accord with the divine plan and will, it harmonize with the genuine good of the human race, and that it allow (people) as individuals and as members of society to pursue their total vocation and fulfill it.
The final result is that individuals must be free to discern and pursue their path in life. The more human beings do this, the more advanced society becomes. Lacking such opportunities, we cannot truly say the world is better off today than fifty or a hundred years ago.