Originally posted on eurorscgpr.com.
Much has been written about the study published in Science last month that ranked the happiest states in the U.S. Economists Andrew J. Oswald of the University of Warwick in England and Stephen Wu of Hamilton College in New York analyzed data from 1.3 million Americans in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and compared their subjective responses about their happiness levels with objective measures such as air quality, housing prices and weather. Although the rankings were sort of a side note in the study, the list attracted a lot of attention—especially in the states where I work, New York (No. 51), and live, Connecticut (No. 50).
The media in those states immediately started poking fun at the study. New York Times columnist Clyde Haberman asked if contentment might be overrated. New York magazine called the findings “unbelievable.” Meanwhile, the happiest states, including Louisiana and Florida, gloated.
Bloggers from places as diverse as Psychology Today and AOL’s Daily Finance set out to debunk the study’s methodology. Many pointed out that the results didn’t square with a study from a month earlier, which found that states with the highest levels of wealth, education and tolerance tended to be happier. (Connecticut was a respectable 19th on that list, while New York was a less depressing 35th.) Pundits suggested causes of less-than-happiness ranging from high taxes and high incomes to liberal politics and lack of religion.
It’s easy to spend an afternoon reading all the views on this, but I think the real questions are: Where do we go from here? What can make us happier? I ask as a marketer—it would be disingenuous to pretend we didn’t want to find ways to sell happiness—and as a resident of a seriously gloomy state.
In The New York Times recently, Nicholas Kristof offered an answer that makes a lot of sense. Drawing on research from psychology professor Jonathan Haidt’s new book, The Happiness Hypothesis, he argued that happiness isn’t produced by high wealth or good looks but by low stress and good works. “Helping others,” he wrote, “may be as primal a pleasure as food or sex.” Other research has found that thinking about giving to charity actually lights up the same parts of the brain as those associated with more hedonistic pleasures.
At a time with no shortage of causes to support, from local food banks to Haitian relief funds, that’s one piece of research I can believe in.