Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Happiness on a scale of 1 to 10

Gallup, in conjunction with Healthways and America's Health Insurance Plans, just came out with a poll on which states have the happiest people. I haven't seen the poll results except in the context of brief news articles all over the Web. It's just a poll. It's not a years' long research study; there's nothing scientific about it; there's no questioning regarding how happy these people might be living elsewhere. Just a poll.

So with that fact in mind, I only found one thing about the poll really interesting, and that was that the happiness-level average of those in the Happiest state (Utah--and, by the way, I lived there and would never [ever] say those years were the happiest of my life) was 69.2 out of 100 and the happiness-level average of those in the Unhappiest state (West Virginia) was 61.2 out of 100. That's one measly point, for those of you who don't feel like subtracting. One point separates the "Yay! I love getting up in the morning!" people from the "Crap, it's another day, isn't it?" people.

Doing a little rounding and reducing, we have Utah=7/10 and West Virginia=6/10. Yeah, I know you could have figured that out yourself, but I'm all about helping people.

I asked my husband several months ago how happy he considers himself on a scale of 1 to 10. I didn't say, "How happy are you with me?" or "How happy are you being a father?" or "How happy are you that you still have all your hair?" Just "How happy are you in general?" His answer? Six. SIX! I tried not to take it personally, because me? I'm more like an 8 or 9, willing to save the 10 for the really big "Yippee!s" in life: a new baby, a potty-trained toddler, an agent's request for pages, really great Indian food . . . that sort of thing. Ron tried to explain that 6 is just his steady state, and he certainly has many days where he goes above that, but barring any "Yippee!s" or "What the . . .!?s" he's a 6.

Now, I know that asking 350,000 people a bunch of questions about how much they smiled the day before or how safe they feel walking in their neighborhood at night or how healthfully they eat doesn't really measure true "happiness." Some individuals who smiled plenty yesterday or feel perfectly safe walking in their neighborhood at night or eat only fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can still be desperately unhappy. And some who seem to have every reason to be miserable can still manage to call themselves joyful. Sometimes it's about biology; sometimes it's about attitude.

So I'd like to rename this poll, if Gallup doesn't mind, the "satisfied with my surroundings" poll. Because to think that we, as Americans, really only average between a 6 and 7 out of 10 on our happiness scales frankly makes me, well, a little unhappy. I can cheer my husband up with my wit and charm and some really great Indian food, but I can't do much for the rest of the country.


Ron said...

after reading this, I'm now at a 7. Bring on the Indian food ...

Shankar said...

International happiness surveys generally result in Denmark being top of the list. When asked why, some Danes say it's because they have low expectations from life. So, it's all relative, really.