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Lower your expectations now. You'll find yourself much more satisfied by the end.
Have you heard that money buys happiness? That's right, your parents lied to you again. In a recent global survey, researchers demonstrated that wealth is a key variable that can explain the disparity of happiness between countries. And we know that it's really true, because happiness research is now SCIENCE.
But it wasn't always this way. Happiness research first emerged as an officially sponsored discipline in 1972, when the then 16-year-old King of Bhutan Jigme Singye Wangchuck introduced Gross National Happiness to his country as an alternative measure of societal well-being to Gross Domestic Product. This development was met with a resounding global silence. No one cared, and the metric was widely derided or, at best, ignored. Bhutan used the research as the rationale to cut down on deforesting and mandate that tourists spend at least $200 USD during their visits. In short, it used to be cool. However, since then, and especially after the research methodology grew more standardized in the nineties, happiness research has taken hold in manifold lamer ways. Economists now eagerly quantify all the fun they're missing out on while more and more governments are surveying their citizens' 'well-being' or 'life satisfaction'. Even the mother country, Britain herself, has tasked its Office of National Statistics to a 4-year $3.2 million research project on the subject, dubbed by the Wall Street Journal as a “national wellbeing campaign.”
Now that happiness research has been embraced by both economists and her majesty the Queen, few readers will need further proof that this discipline is seriously suspect. But in case you're still credulous, here's why you're wrong.
“Taken together, how would you says that things are these days?”
“Do you think of yourself as very happy, pretty happy or not too happy?”
“Have you been feeling reasonably happy all things considered?”
The above are questions taken from various happiness surveys. Based on answers to questions such as these, researchers have determined the following: giving away money makes people happier than spending it on themselves; eating chocolate sparingly makes us appreciate chocolate more; and while people expect that 'life satisfaction' will double if they make $55,000 per annum versus $25,000––in fact, they are only 9 percent more satisfied when such a change in fortune occurs. But how do we know this? And what does “9 percent more satisfied” actually mean?
The reliability of the research methodology aside , on the surface, happiness research is reporting some pretty interesting trends. Here are some favorite 'facts' from happiness research so far:
Money Matters: According to Gallup global polls, across countries, there is a direct causal relationship between wealth and self-reported well-being.
Exercise Doesn't: Based on studies of twins and families, Dutch researchers have shown that there is no causal effect between happiness and physical activity. But, they are Dutch.
Forced Affirmation Hurts: Those with low self-esteem feel even less confident after attempts to affirm themselves and (apparently) failing. This accompanies a recent trend in therapy, which advises patients to accept “negative self-talk,” on the grounds that faking it till you make it doesn't work when the person you're trying to fool (yourself) knows it's fake.
Living in the Moment Helps: Daydreaming is associated with dissatisfaction – unhappy activities are associated with wandering minds, and often, such minds wander into an unhappy place.
The Pursuit of Happiness Makes You Sad. The single-minded search for happiness makes us unhappy. One study reports that “[those] primed to value happiness became less (not more) appreciative of positive events in their immediate environment.”
QUESTIONS ABOUT QUESTIONS
It is easy to find problems with surveys predicated on questions ending with “all things considered”, but the most salient are issues of subjectivity and context.
Imagine how Ee-or from Winnie the Pooh might answer the questions above. Would you expect his answers to bear any correlation to his external environment, or would they almost entirely be determined by the fact the Ee-or is kind of a downer?
Now imagine that the Queen from Snow White was asked the same question, after she thinks that Snow White has been vanquished. She would probably report that she's SO HAPPY. HA. HAHA. Do you believe her? And if so, do you think that her version of happiness should be recognized as commensurate with Piglet's?
Subjectivity is the fundamental problem with basing scientific studies on personal responses to questions like, “Taken together, how would you say things are these days?” Maybe people who exercise are just more moderate when they assess their own happiness. Maybe when people make $55,000 a year up from $25,000 a year they are in fact twice as happy as they would have previously defined it, but they're also 95.5% more jaded, so they only report a 9% increase. (And again, does anyone know what a 9% increase in happiness feels like?) Subjective variables such as these undermine the validity of the data as an assessment of aggregate wellbeing, and severely undermine the validity of using the data to compare happiness across nations. What if everyone in Switzerland is really mean, like the Queen, but society allows them to be mean, so they're all just fantastically pleased with themselves? Or if everyone in Ireland is like Ee-or when they're sober, which is the only time when they're surveyed, but find fulfillment as soon as they're drunk? Or if researchers stumble across a Winnie-the-Pooh-with-perpetual-honey society that finds happiness so unexceptional they don't even bother to report their satisfaction on surveys?
Imagine how happy most G.I.'s were to return home from World War II and find that they could attend college. Imagine how happy 19th century folk were to have plumbing. Now compare that to the contentment of a typical college student today.
Researchers tend to overlook the fact that happiness and satisfaction are based on standards that we often receive from culture and society, which evolve over time. In fact, they can often change upon a simple switch from one sub-culture to the next. Just watch an episode of “Gossip Girl” after viewing “Annie the Orphan” to see what I mean.
This problem is compounded by the tendency for many happiness surveys, such as the Gallup World Poll, to employ a ladder analogy. They ask their respondents to imagine a ladder in which every subsequent rung represents a successively better life, and decide which “rung” corresponds to their current life. Maybe money determines happiness across countries, or maybe American culture is so pervasive that people across the world judge themselves by comparison to the Hollywood dream.
While problems with context challenges the validity of the research, it especially makes comparing happiness over time, like when the Gallup World Poll declared that Americans in 2012 were the happiest since 2008, inherently flawed. Maybe our standards have just dropped. Who's to say?
BUT JUST WHAT ARE WE ASKING, ANYWAY?
Aside from the above superficial problems, there is one profound assumption underlying the vast majority of current happiness literature that is even greater cause for concern: the preference of hedonic happiness over eudaimonic happiness. Eudaimonic happiness comes from Aristotle's notion that “true happiness is found by leading a virtuous life and doing what is worth doing, with the realisation of our human potential as the ultimate goal.” In so many words, a meaningful life. Hedonic happiness as a goal of society is a more recent construction, often attributed to Jeremy Bentham and the utilitarians. This is the “fun” associated with such things as roller coaster rides and, well, sex.
Richard Layard, the pre-eminent happiness economist today, writes, “By happiness I mean feeling good – enjoying life and wanting the feeling to be maintained. By unhappiness I mean feeling bad and wishing things to be different.” Ed Diener, another prominent researcher, proclaims that a happy person is one who “experiences life satisfaction and frequent joy, and only infrequently experiences unpleasant emotions such as sadness or anger.” It is clear that the happiness these researchers seek to quantify is of the hedonic variety. It shouldn't be surprising then that “relaxing, shopping, watching TV, socializing and having sex” are associated with higher levels of happiness, while “household work [and] professional work” are associated with lower levels of happiness.
This might be small potatoes if governments weren't poised to use these metrics as a guide to governance, but given that this seems to be a real possibility, the emphasis of hedonic happiness over eudaimonic happiness is a real concern. If governments incorporate hedonic happiness measurements as a means to estimate the efficacy of their policies, the policies lauded as most “effective” will almost invariably earn this title by giving more weight to the transient, more quantifiable forms of pleasure instead of encouraging citizens to take the path less traveled. An MDMA subsidy is only a few steps away.
Richard Feynman is often attributed the quote, “Philosophy of science is as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.” It's not clear who first replied, that ornithology would be of great use to many birds.
This article is not attempting to disqualify a new, exciting fusion between economics and psychology. Happiness research is bursting with promise, and even its most inchoate insights are beyond interesting. But as happiness metrics gain traction as a way to measure societal progress and direct government policy, it's important to understand its limits and especially its dependence on implicit assumptions. As long as we're going to build a new scientific vehicle to steer society forward, let's also be sure to take a look at the road.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.