Happiness Lessons From A Libertarian
So would living in that house make a person happy or unhappy? There’s no firm answer, of course; happiness is relative, subjective, and every other –ive that makes a hard-science major shake his head and say “can’t be quantified.”
But that never stops guys with job titles like “analytical social psychologist” from trying. Thus, thanks to Scott Stein, I read this article about an A.S.P. named Adam White who claims he can not only measure happiness, but determine that Denmark is the happiest country on Earth, with the United States coming in at number 23. (Patriots will be happy to learn that we soundly beat the French, at number 62.)
The main factors that affected happiness were health provision, wealth and education, according to White.
Sounds sensible at first — who’s going to argue that sickness, poverty and ignorance lead to happiness? There’s probably a minimum material standard you must meet in order to be happy; I doubt you’ll find much happiness amongst those currently starving to death. But can you take raw data consisting solely of healthcare, income and education levels, and make any accurate predictions about a person’s level of happiness?
What about friends? Family? Lovers? Any human interaction at all? What about political freedom — is there any correlation between happiness and the fear that your government’s secret police will take you away?
"Smaller countries tend to be a little happier because there is a stronger sense of collectivism and then you also have the aesthetic qualities of a country," White said.
Oh, I see — what leads to happiness isn’t wealth, health and schooling, but collectivism and a country’s aesthetic qualities. What glorious news for an eccentric misanthrope who was chronically unpopular in high school and then grew up to continue the trend by becoming a libertarian! If I want to be happy all I have to do is learn to love the aesthetic qualities of popular artists like Thomas Kinkade and then bask in the collective’s warm embrace of a thirtysomething female who never bothered to get married, have children, or read any book with the words “for women” in the title.
Investment Tips For Women! A Guide to Politics For Women! Rules of English Grammar and Composition For Women! Speaking of aesthetics, the words “for women” are always in that damnable pink or lavender script guaranteed to grate the nerve endings of a woman whose primary wardrobal philosophy is “if all your clothes and bedsheets are dark it’s easier to do laundry that way.”
I’m sorry, I shouldn’t go off on a rant like this. Besides, I’m getting upset over nothing since White himself later demolishes his “happiness via the collective” theory:
"We were surprised to see countries in Asia scoring so low, with China 82nd, Japan 90th, and India 125th. These are countries that are thought as having a strong sense of collective identity which other researchers have associated with well-being."
China is happier than Japan?
China, which loses out to Japan in the categories of health provision, education, wealth, small-countryness and intellectual, political and personal freedom (assuming those matter at all) — China is happier than Japan?
Maybe. But if so it’s due to a factor not mentioned in White’s study, the factor which determines how happy you’d be with my parents’ house in the burbs. Ask the average person: do you think you’re better or worse off than you were ten or fifteen or twenty years ago? Those who say ‘better’ are probably happier than those who say ‘worse.’
Now ask about the future: will things be better or worse for you then? The happiest people will be the most hopeful as well.
Once you’ve met the basic material requirements for existence, I don’t think you can say “I will be happy so long as I have X.” Because once you get X you realize it isn’t so much unless you also have Y, which requires Z as a catalyst and then you’re right back to the beginning of the alphabet. Happiness doesn’t exist in the present on its own, but only at a certain angle relative to the future and the past. But this is too subjective to be measured with any accuracy between individuals, and certainly shouldn't become the basis for strengthening the power of the collective or enforcing any given aesthetic ideal.