Saturday, December 21, 2013

A 'Formula for Happiness'? Looks Like I'm Screwed!

Two dour great grandfathers: one a firebrand bible puncher in 1860s Kansas, the other (left side of second image) a fierce fighter in the Austro-Hungarian Army, ca. 1915.

In the NY Times Sunday piece, 'A Formula for Happiness' (Sunday Review, p. 1, Dec. 15) we are informed that the social scientists have finally "caught the butterfly" after 40 years of research, in terms of finding out what makes people happy.  This emerged thank to the "richest data available to social scientists thanks to the University of Chicago General Social Survey, a survey of Americans conducted since 1972".

The Times piece notes the data are remarkably consistent with a similar survey taken every four years showing roughly "a third" of Americans proclaiming they are very happy and about a half report being "pretty happy". Only 10 to 15 percent admitted to being "not too happy" - however, I warrant the actual proportion is substantially larger and the higher percentages include liars who just didn't want to fess up to being killjoys and 'Debbie Downers' in the US of Happyland.

The article does note that "beneath the averages are demographic differences", for example, women are happier than men. (Not surprising since women are permitted a wider spectrum of social reaction, emotional display). But nowhere do the differences appear greater than when it comes to political persuasion. In this case we learn:

"Conservative women are particularly blissful, about 40 percent report being 'very happy'. This makes them slightly happier than conservative men and liberal women. The unhappiest of all are liberal men- only a fifth consider themselves very happy."

Whoa! I'm screwed already since not only am I a liberal man, but socialist to the hilt. Since so few of my confederates are located in this country and most of the "liberals" are more Neolib than genuine, I find myself an outcast - and hence, relatively unhappy at the isolation.  Hell, I can't even tolerate many of Obama's policies (war-occupation in Afghanistan-  now Obama wants to extend it to 2024, drone killings, NSA supporting, chained CPI for Social Security, etc.), setting the stage for arguments with wifey - usually resolved by "agreeing to differ". (She is a more 'moderate' lib but still not Neolib, thank god.)

But evidently where I'm really screwed is when it comes to genes. The social researchers "found that we inherit a surprising proportion of our happiness at any given moment (48 percent) from our ancestors. Tracing back my own genealogy  - or rather wifey doing it- we've come across a whole spate of dour, no-nonsense personalities, on both mother's and father's side - though they seem to predominate in the latter. In the former, we traced back to Anton, who rose to captain in the Austro-Hungarian Army. Anton brooked no foolishness and didn't have time for small talk or foolish pranks, jokes.

Meanwhile, a paternal great grandfather born in Rockingham County, Virginia emerged to become one of the most firebrand bible punchers amongst "the Brethren" that 1860s Kansas had ever seen. A photo of him with his wife is shown, ca. 1859. Their kids were more tolerated than anything else, and again, any  jokes and pranks earned the jokesters a trip to the woodshed. (One wise guy jokester son was apparently leather-strapped almost daily, recorded in a Brethren  'Good deed diary')

A paternal uncle also appeared to inherit these no-nonsense tendencies and didn't take to jokes very well- as his offspring often reported.  But the researchers' finds ought not be that astonishing since the authors of the book Nature's Thumbprint had already made quite an argument for the case that not only can physical factors be inherited, but also psychological, and personality.   If great grandfather Anton or Julius didn't see the glass half full, or take jokes kindly, chances were many later descendants wouldn't either. Add on a dollop of having the wrong political persuasion - by choice - and well, you aren't going to get 'Soupy Sales', or  any modern incarnations of him. Oh, and not Norman Vincent Peale either.

Thankfully, the study reported in The Times shows genes don't control everything. About 40 percent contribution arises from isolated, one-off events, e.g. winning a lotto, getting a dream job, or gaining entry to an Ivy League school. The problem? As the piece notes, the happiness created is usually ephemeral and "dissipates after a few months".

This leaves only 12 percent of your happiness which you can control  Lo, and behold, the social scientists found that "choosing to pursue four basic values of faith, family, community, and work is the surest path to happiness."  The first three are fairly intuitive, although again, if you're an atheist and introvert you're pretty well screwed. An atheist isn't going to plump for faith, and an introvert in general eschews multi- friendships and immersing himself in a "community". Again, I'm somewhat screwed here.

In terms of work, we're told we can make the biggest dent. Incredibly, and more or less at odds with assorted polls, the social gurus say "more than 50 percent of Americans say they are 'very satisfied'  or 'completely satisfied with their jobs".  The researchers add: "This rises to 80 percent when we say 'fairly satisfied'."

What? Are these people on some kind of drug? They'd have to be! Especially the fast food workers, or waiters, waitresses that earn $2.13 an hour and have to hope they get enough tips. Is it me, or is there a lot of lying going on in this country in surveys?  Yet the author of the Times piece writes with a straight (presumably) face:

"This shouldn't shock us. Vocation is central to the American ideal. The root of the aphorism that we 'live to work' while others 'work to live'"

Yes, so in other words, Americans are mindless drones. Unlike Europeans, whose governments have policies to ensure their waking lives are diverse via enough vacation time and even sick days. They don't have to report for a wait job vomiting, or only earn a sick day by sending a selfie from a hospital bed. They don't have to work their asses off for 33 years, and then - just before their pension arrives- get fired, errr......downsized.

The other bollocks spouted by the deluded author is that:

 "throughout our history America's flexible labor markets and dynamic society have given its citizens a unique say over our work- and made our work uniquely relevant to our happiness."

Which makes one wonder what planet this guy lives on that he could push such baloney and expect any reasonably intelligent person to swallow it. Until one looks at the byline and sees it is "Arthur C. Brooks" one of the conservo clones at the American Enterprise Institute. The same bunch that two years ago offered $10k "prizes" to academic who would write good anti-global warming essays to publish in the mainstream press. The same bunch of whackos that has defended Neoliberal capitalism in all its wretched permutations.

So, basically, we can take that "12 percent" offal and just chuck it as not being under the control of most Americans. But the funniest bunkum in Brooks' piece is when he insists that - according to the General Social Survey "three quarters of Americans wouldn't quit their jobs - even if a financial windfall enabled them to live in luxury the rest of their lives."

Huh? You mean three fourths of Americans are so fucking dumb they'd rather waste their lives slaving away at a (likely) crap job, running coffee errands for the suits and honchos, or flipping burgers, or welding pipes, than to be able to travel to different lands and see other cultures - oh, and have time to improve their minds? I can't believe it. If so, Europeans are right to mock us for being brainwashed drones.

The thing that really is a slap down? Brooks claims that the ones who mainly say they wouldn't bolt are "those with the least education, the lowest incomes and the least prestigious jobs". But that bears out my point, that in order to eschew their work if they won a lotto, say, they'd have to have been brainwashed by the American Neoliberal capitalist system. Only a fool would remain working after winning enough to enhance his life quality and enrich it via diverse experience.

But then, maybe that's just the anti-capitalist curmudgeon in me or perhaps I'm among the "elites" that Brooks says would "take the money and run". You're damned fucking straight, you idiot! 

Oh, oh, Jeebus, sorry,.....that's old great grandfather Julius (maybe with a mixture of Anton) creeping out from inside my skull. Those genes again!

As for "happiness" - to me I more go along with what one Chinese friend of mine related to me back in 1986: "Only Americans would make a big deal out of something as irrelevant as happiness and put it into their Declaration of Independence too."

Thanks, Cao Fei, for words to the wise and a lot more insight than the wingnut tool Arthur Brooks offers!

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