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The Pursuit Of Happiness

By Sheril KirshenbaumMay 19, 2009 1:04 PM


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It’s one of those three inalienable rights we’re guaranteed from the U.S. Declaration of Independence–and also the subject of a lot of recent study.  Just this week, we learned that the Pew Research Center found happiness associated with being an old, male Republican:

Americans grow happier as they age, surveys find. And a new Pew Research Center survey shows the tendency is holding up as the economy tanks.

Happiness is a complex thing. Past studies have found that happiness is partly inherited, that Republicans are happier than Democrats, and that old men tend to be happier than old women.

Ted Stevens comes to mind.

Or maybe it’s location.  According to LiveScience, in June the American Journal of Preventive Medicine will report:

people who live on, say, Hawaiian beaches have fewer bouts of stress, depression and emotional problems than people who live in the misty hollows of Appalachia.

Sounds reasonable, but don’t jump on the geographic bandwagon yet…  Another Pew telephone survey from 2006 suggests these general trends:

  • People who worship frequently are happier than those who don’t.

  • Married people are happier than the unmarried.

  • Whites and Hispanics are happier than blacks.

  • Republicans are happier than Democrats.

  • The rich are happier than the poor.

  • Dog owners and cat owners rate the same.

  • Sunbelt residents are happier than everyone else.

Fair enough.  But I suspect there’s not really some universal standard for reporting a personal state of happiness. Furthermore, such survey results are hard–if not impossible–to interpret.  Consider: What does happiness mean to you?  A house, dog, and 2.3 kids?  Health? The biggest toys?  Freedom?  Family?  Charity work?  Education?  Love?  Sex? A child’s smile?  What about cultural differences between regions?

Hence, despite that such studies have a habit of bouncing round the internet every time they’re published, I’m skeptical we can extrapolate much useful information, though perhaps they do prompt a fun dialog.  And so folks, who’s ‘happy‘ and what do you make of all this?

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