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Retired publishing executive ecstatic with the idea of spending most of his time on the coast of Maine

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Last week the journal Science published a research article on happiness, attempting to rank its prevalence by state. Supposedly, this research compared what people said against objective measures known to affect happiness (weather, population density, air quality, home prices, etc.). You'll be happy to know that Louisiana was number 1 and New York was number 51. My own home states, Maine and Massachusetts, checked in at number 10 and number 43 respectively. Eight of the top ten were warm-weather states.

May I say that if we believe that happiness can be measured by objective measures such as the above, we should change our species name to Homo superficialis.

This study contrasts with a happiness survey taken by Gallup in November that relied only on what people said. Here the top states were the wealthiest and the most tolerant, with Utah first and West Virginia last. Massachusetts was 8th and Maine 29th. Even taking into account people's ability to lie, especially to themselves, these data seem more representative.

It's probably no accident that both studies were published around the holidays. I know that for many the holidays are stressful and depressing, for the hype can't possibly measure up to the reality, and indeed makes it worse when the reality is loneliness, poverty, or ill health. We are told to be happy, that the perfectly cooked turkey or latest-model cell phone will save us if we just try and buy. When will we see a happiness survey based on friendships and family and peace and contentment?

That describes us this Christmas, especially with daughters having safely returned from France. Geographic, scientific, objective, and especially commercial descriptors have little meaning or place. Happiness is decorating a tree with ornaments from a lifetime, angels and nutcrackers, frosted pine cones, homemade Santas, the silly and the corny, the ornate and the plain, the special box of fragile glass pieces that sparkle in the colored lights - all the reminders of growing up together in our own little state of bliss.

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