Pinning Down Happiness
Evelyn Rodriguez on Culture
I'm on the same wavelength as Anita today, but I wonder how these 'happiness' quotients are measured. Happiness studies are all the rage these days, but as a marketer I find surveys to be suspect. (For the cited World Values Survey project, 'inhabitants of different countries and territories were asked how happy or satisfied they were'.)
Now do you simply ask people how happy they are? Nope, I'm about to throw myself off a bridge tonight, but thanks for asking. Would you be truthful? (Yet that's exactly what many of these 'studies' do!)
[Daniel] Nettle [author of Happiness: The Science Behind Your Smile] describes a clever study wherein some subjects, but not others, find a dime on a photocopy machine before being given the questionnaire. When later asked, the subjects who found the dime reported significantly higher satisfaction with their whole lives. People say their lives are better when asked on a sunny day - unless you first mention the weather to them, in which case they correct for sunshine and give you a lower number.
That quote's from an article reviewing three happiness science books in the premiere issue of the science culture mag, Seed.
The article goes on to review three new happiness books: The Happiness Hypothesis: Putting Ancient Wisdom to the Test of Modern Science, Happiness: The Science Behind Your Smile, Satisfaction: The Science Finding True Fulfillment. None of which seemed like I had to rush out to buy.
Interestingly enough, in the same Seed issue (not online), His Holiness the Dalai Lama pens a piece entitled, 'What Buddhism Offers Science' which reminds me that if you want some real science behind these musings on happiness, try an fMRI. Try brain scanning a monk.
At a 2003 conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin who oversaw the experiments there, described his follow-up studies. Davidson, who had spent time in Asia studying meditation when he was younger, flashed a PowerPoint slide of a bell curve rising like a red mountain out of a flat landscape. It was a graph, he explained, charting 150 people's normal brain states. For the great majority, that state was a mix of left prefrontal cortex (positive emotion) and right prefrontal cortex (negative emotion) activity. But there was one tiny 'data point' at the chart's far edge, a solitary pilgrim walking away from the looming red peak of statistical normalcy. That point was Matthieu Ricard, scanned during his compassion meditation. His reading was entirely off the curve in the area of positive emotion -- the most extreme result ever recorded. - read more from Utne Reader article