Friday, August 01, 2008

Is That Really the Way to Measure Happiness?

I read an article today that claimed women are less happy at mid life than men. The Ottawa Citizen Reports:

The researchers looked at several decades of surveys that asked what people wanted out of life and which of those things they had. Happiness, Ms. Plagnol said, is determined by measuring the difference between the two -- in other words, whether or not people have what they say they want.

After controlling for year of birth and demographics such as race and education, the authors specifically looked at two areas: family life and finances.

"Virtually all studies agree that family life and finances are among the most important in determining happiness," the study reads.

Financial happiness was determined by how many of 10 big-ticket consumer goods -- including a car, a TV, a vacation home and a pool -- people had that they also considered part of a good life.

So if I understand this properly, if I say I want a big house, a beautiful wife, a fancy car, and lots of kids and I have all those things, then the study authors pronounce me "happy." If I have 3/4 I must be 75% happy. Presumably if I have none of those things, the authors would categorize me as miserable. This is the logic that allows Anke Plagnol one of the study authors to conclude: "Aspirations of men and women are similar later in life, but women attain less."

I can certainly see how the study results are interesting, but is that really the way to measure happiness? It sounds a lot like a materialist trap that says I will be happy if only I have more stuff. Unfortunately, that's just not true! More stuff doesn't make you more happy even if you think that it will.

I recommend all happiness experts go out and buy a copy of the Veggie Tales classic Madame Blueberry. They'll learn that "being greedy makes you grumpy -- but a thankful heart is a happy heart!"

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