What Makes You Happy?

Posted on May 24, 2013

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A couple weeks ago, HuffPost published an article which revealed that The American Express Company, while selling people on the fantasy of what they (American Express) has determined to be blissfully happy lives, has also, behind the scenes, been tracking data since the 1980s on what makes Americans happy in reality.

This got Life in the Boomer Lane to thinking, specifically that HuffPost continues to ignore her writing and repeated attempts to get anyone’s attention, always an activity that is seriously damaging to her self-esteem and her promise to her now-deceased parents that she would one day be famous.

Back to HuffPost. Actually, not. Before we delve into any research, let us examine the notion of happiness.

Clearly, the notion of what makes a person happy changes over one’s lifetime. In addition to changing over the ages of an individual person’s life, the notion of happiness has changed over the ages.

Happiness, itself, is a concept that appeared on the planet relatively recently. For hundreds of thousands of years, people spent most of their time in an unsuccessful attempt to stay alive and eliminate body odor. And, even when they managed to avoid large surly animals, the plague, and getting hit on a head with one of those massive boulders they used to construct present day tourist destinations, their reward was a life of rotten teeth and sleeping on vermin-infested bedding.

As civilization improved, and both quality dentistry and Mattress Discounters became available to the masses, people began to demand more out of life. In other words, they realized for the first time that they weren’t happy. They tried gel manicures, eyebrow threading, season playoffs tickets and mail-order meat. They purchased homes large enough to house entire communities of homeless people, then realized what they had done and put electronic gates around their homes to keep the riff raff out. They bought one-cup coffee makers and then realized that even a cup can potentially get stale, and so purchased machines that dispense a teaspoon of perfectly-brewed coffee at a time.

Happiness, or rather the search for it, became big business. Therapy and meds were invented, books were written, divorce attorneys popped up on every street corner. While this was going on, the subsequent invention of the Kardashians showed people that even with liquidating their 401Ks, they still wouldn’t be able to afford the correct purses. It seemed to be a losing proposition for most.

Research, as it always does when those guys in white lab coats get bored spending their time entirely with small furry rodents who don’t want committed relationships, stepped in. And, as always, the results were mixed.

Gallup, a polling firm, asked respondents around the world to imagine a “satisfaction ladder” in which the top step represents a respondent’s best possible life. Though some countries seem happier than others, people everywhere report more satisfaction as they grow richer. The relationship between income and happiness hardly changes as incomes rise. Moving from rich to richer seems to raise happiness just as much as moving from poor to less poor. In other words, happiness is all about money.

American Express, on the other hand, in a study that has tracked people from 1988-2012, finds that we have shifted from a culture that primarily judged success based on external displays of wealth to a society that now places greater weight on less tangible measures like life experiences and happiness when defining their own success and the success of others. There has been a substantial decrease in the number of people who believe money is the only real meaningful measure of success, dovetailing exactly with the number of people who have less money than they used to. (LBL’s note: This last sentence has been deliberately manipulated, since the original findings were boring). In other words, happiness isn’t all about money.

And finally, the BBC finds a U-shape pattern of happiness over the life span (high during youth and old age, low during midlife), observed across the globe. It has been documented in more than 70 countries, in surveys of more than 500,000 people in both developing and developed countries. It turns out that happiness is indeed high in youth, but declines steadily hitting rock bottom in our mid-40s. Then, miraculously, our sense of happiness takes a turn for the better, increasing as we grow older. In other words, happiness is solely about one’s stage in life and has no connection to the money  issue or anything else.

LBL knows that if she continues to spend her time in front of the computer, she will find a ton more research that studies happiness and comes up with contradictory conclusions. The result will be that she is no better off than when she started, her grey roots will have gotten slightly longer, and HuffPost will continue to ignore her. She will now extricate herself from this lose-lose activity and go back to only focusing on the positive. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

 

 

 

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Posted in: research, satire