Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: The Two Maines

The journal Science in November 2009 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 the number 1 happy state and New York was number 51 (the survey included the District of Columbia). 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.
This study contrasts with a happiness survey taken by Gallup in the same month that relied only on what people said. Here the happiest 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.
May I say first that if we believe that happiness can be measured objectively by weather and house prices, such as Science claims, we should change our species name to Homo superficialis. (Also, Derek Bok in his book The Politics of Happiness, says that high GDP is no predictor of happiness.)
Second, by the objective measures, Maine is a great place to live, but the people don’t think so. I wonder if the surveys corrected for the two Maines, the splits between coastal Maine (Kittery to Acadia but not past Acadia, for “way Down East” is as poor as any inland hamlet) and the rest of the state, between natives and summer people, between north and south, between poor and well-off.  A state of mind can be so much more pleasant than a state of body.
       At present there seems to be a reasonable truce between the various “twos,” but I doubt there’s much commerce among them except in the money sense. The tourist industry is still Maine’s biggest. E.B. Whites and Henry Bestons are rare, even possibly extinct, a casualty of the new social ecology of increasing class differences. Yet the mildness of the relationship is typified in the old saying, “Summer people and some are not.”

Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer
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