Thursday, April 8, 2010

Happiness Research? Surely you jest!

The latest fulsome malarkey making the rounds is the “field of Happiness research”. This twaddle has evidently been adopted by one branch of psychologists who apparently needed to create a whole new pseudo-branch of their “science” in order not to academically trespass on fellow workers’ well- trodden territory.

For example, some chestnuts we’ve learned from this research:

- Most people are happiest in the mid -20s and then at 65 when they can retire.
- People who belong to religions are generally happier than people who don’t

Okay, back up a second! Did it really require research money invested to discern these? As for when you’re in the mid-20s, well most people haven’t yet been tied to one job yet. They're on a more adventurous life track, or aspect. I recall, I was 25 when I packed up and embarked for the West Indies in the Peace Corps: new scenery, new people, new adventures! It was exhilarating!

Retirement happiness also is a no –brainer, since one is no longer marching to a clock, or at another's irritating beck and call, and can do the things he or she really loves for a change. The might be taking university classes or hand crafts, or reading books one never had the time to read while working. Or traveling to far off lands!

As for religious people being happier, so what? We also know that drunks – sozzled on too much Sterno - are spectacularly happy with their delusions, so long as the drink keeps coming to feed them. Being “happy” because some medium – whether drink or magical thinking or a KJV bible – has lifted you to the Lala zone, isn’t exactly saying a lot!

Anyway – back to the other major finds:

- Winning the lotto doesn’t make one significantly happier than those who haven’t
- Beyond about $50,000 a year, most people are not appreciably happier (I’d argue with that one!)
- Getting a raise doesn’t make one as happy as he originally expected it to
- Having kids doesn’t make one as happy as anticipations lured one into believing (One study discovered that women found caring for children slightly more satisfying than doing the dishes- and less pleasurable than jogging, or napping)

Ordinarily, this crap could probably be avoided – like astrology, water divining and the well-skewered notion of praying for the ill to make them better. However, when certain people with gravitas write books advocating policy decisions based on it, then it’s time to sit up – take notice and holler: ‘Hold on one damned minute!’

The person I am referring to above is Derek Bok (a former Harvard President) and his book is entitled: The Politics of Happiness: What Government Can Learn from the New Research on Well-Being’ (Princeton University Press). Bok’s thesis – if one can dignify it by that name- is based on American’s virtual numbness to their deteriorating economic well being as manifested by answers given over the years to questions on their content. For example, despite Americans’ income eroding in real dollar terms since 1973 (the $10,000 earned then is worth about $9,480 now), they still describe themselves as “very happy” or “pretty happy”- and this has remained virtually unchanged.

In fact, the “subjective well being” marker seems to have been flat since at least the mid-1950s. Bok’s argument then is why should we really care if there is a residual inequality in the society (this is usually measured by the Gini coefficient, and the U.S. coefficient is significantly higher than European nations). In his chapter headed ‘What to do about Inequality?’ Bok forcefully answers: “Nothing”

Bok concedes that the rich have benefited the past few decades (well, to be exact, those making over $1 million a year have received the equivalent of a free Lexus each year thanks to the Bush tax cuts) and the rich are relatively happier – but the “statistics” show the subjective well –being at the bottom has remained unchanged. So what’s to worry?

As Bok puts it:

“If the poor aren’t bothered by the growing disparity, why should anyone else?”

He adds:

“It’s not immediately clear why growing inequality should elicit compassion if lower income Americans have not become less happy”

Well, who says? Unlike Bok and the ‘Happiness’ research flakes, I (as an empirical scientist) don’t go by what people “say” in subjective surveys, but their actions. And believe me, their actions the past several decades disclose a “hidden holocaust” to use Michael Parenti’s term (America Besieged).

In his chapter 'Hidden Holocaust, USA' Parenti demolishes the national happiness bromide for anyone infected with insidious, media-inserted false consciousness and delusion.. He cites a typical year’s statistics to start, showing how these vary little year to year in the US of A:

Amongst the items noted then (ibid., pp. 3-6):

- 27,000 commit suicide each year

-23,000 murdered each year

-5.5 million arrested each year

- 25 million seek mental health assistance

-6.5 million use crack, speed, heroin, PCP or some other hard drug on a regular basis each year

- 37 million use emotion-controlling or numbing drugs, to face reality. Their own false optimism and delusions aren't enough to get them through the day

- 1.3 million suffer permanent kidney damage from treatments received at hospitals each year

-80 million go to some type of psychological counselor each year

- Up to 4 million women are beaten, battered

- More than 30,000 children are left permanently disabled each year from neglect and battering

- One woman is raped every 45 seconds throughout the year (700,000 in all a year)

-14,000 are killed on the job each year

- 60,000 are killed directly by toxic, environmental pollutants each year, 300,000 more get cancer from environmental toxins each year and die

- 5 million workers injured seriously on the job each year

- 4,000 die from ingesting contaminated meat each year

- 5.1 million behind bars, on probation or parole (higher than even China or Russia)

- each week one thousand more people go into jails than leave

- 16 million with diabetes

- 10 million with a serious enough drinking problem to require special intervention

- 10 million suffer from asthma each year

- More than forty-six million with no health insurance- and just one catastrophe from bankruptcy

- 1.2 million elderly warehoused in nursing homes

- 950,000 school children per year treated with mind-control drugs to make them passive (half could be placed in home care with proper staff but states won't allow it)

- 4.5 million kids suffer from malnutrition

-More than 22 million unemployed

All of these stats embrace what the happiness subjective foolishness doesn’t: the warp and woof of absolute misery in America. By virtue of actual conditions and consequences of Americans (and their government) ignoring or giving short shrift to their economic well being.

Here’s what I suggest to the next dimwit who wants to conduct a “happiness” research study: travel to Liberty City or Little Haiti in Miami or the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, where the rates of unemployment and child malnutrition are highest, then pass out your stupid survey and ask the people (and children) just how “happy” they really are.

If you make it out of there in one piece, I will be happy to read your report! I might even take it seriously!

No comments: