Oct 042009

I copied this out of a book I read the other day callled “The Happiness Hypothesis”.  The book takes ten good ideas passed down from the sages and examines them with all the modern scientific tools currently at our disposal. So while there is nothing “new” here, it is neat to watch it become a fixture of fact hanging on the wall of science.

The second biggest finding in happiness research, after the strong influence of genes upon a person’s average level of happiness, is that most environmental and demographic factors influence happiness very little. Try to imagine yourself changing places with either Bob or Mary. Bob is 35, single, white, attractive, and athletic. He earns $100,000 a year and lives in sunny southern California. He is highly intellectual and he spends his free time reading and going to museums. Mary and her husband live in Buffalo, NY where they earn a combined income of $42,000. Mary is 65 years old, black, overweight and plain in appearance. She is highly sociable and spends her free time mostly in activities related to her church. She is on dialysis for kidney problems.

Bob seems to have it all and few readers of this book would prefer Mary’s life to his. Yet if you had to bet on it, you should bet that Mary is happier than Bob.

What Mary has that Bob lacks are strong connections. A good marriage is one of the factors  most strongly and consistently associated with happiness. This benefit is due to the real and lasting effects of dependable companionship. Mary also has religion, and religious people are happier, on average, than non-religious people. This effect arises from the social ties of participation in a religious community, as well as feeling connected to something larger than oneself.

What Bob has going for him is a string of objective advantages in power, status, freedom, and health.  White Americans are freed from many of the hassels and indignities that affect black Americans, yet on average they are only very slightly on average any happier.

People are often surprised to learn that the old are happier than the young because the old have so many more health problems. But the adaptation principle applies here again. People adapt to most chronic health problems such as Mary’s. People who live in cold climates expect people who live in warm climates to be happier but they are wrong. People believe that attractive people are happier than unattractive people but they too are wrong.

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