Is happiness just a thing called cold? Researchers probing
Written by Michael Lewis on November 18, 2015
A scholarly study of global happiness that’s funded by the United Arab Emirates purports to show that the wealthiest nations aren’t necessarily the happiest, with the United States 15th best among 158 nations but getting less happy while the United Arab Emirates are 20th but getting happier.
We are not making this up. It’s Called the “World Happiness Report 2015.” If you’ve got insomnia, you can read it on the internet (the study actually does report on lack of sleep).
We know this 167-page report is scholarly not only because page after page is devoted solely to footnotes but also because it uses mathematical formulas whose squiggly characters are foreign to most of us.
The Wall Street Journal brought this study to our attention with a headline “Happiness Gauges Show Money Isn’t Everything.” Factors that the study found most relevant in gauging happiness were not only Gross Domestic Product but also life expectancy, generosity, social support, freedom and corruption.
Well, we can see all of those being important to happiness (though we’d have said it was absence of corruption, not corruption, that makes people happy), but we think the researchers missed a couple of very important variables.
Those missing factors are the two T’s: temperature and transportation.
Take temperature. The study used variable after variable and after adding them up and massaging them a bit determined that the eight nations where people are happiest are, from first to eighth, Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Canada, Finland, Netherlands and Sweden. We’re wondering why it didn’t occur to the researchers to think of what those nations as a group have in common: Cold.
While this study is based on numerical graphs ad infinitum, we believe the key number is 40: the average annual temperature in the capital of each of the eight so-called happiest nations is in the 40s.
No study needed. Apparently happiness is just a thing called cold – bone-chilling cold.
At the other end of the spectrum, in the unhappiest nation on earth, Togo, the average is 80.
So if a key factor in happiness is cold, the United Arab Emirates, with an average of 81 in Dubai, are going to have trouble cracking the top 10 no matter whose government subsidizes these studies that began in 2012 (apparently it takes a while to pin down what makes us happy).
That leads to another ignored factor in the happiness realm: transportation.
Take Miami. With a 76-degree average we have enough trouble being really happy – though it’s easier than in 81-degree Dubai – without ranking at the bottom for transportation, a fact that has been painfully uncovered by 2.6 million human lab rats in Miami-Dade who have proven that not being able to get anywhere on time makes us absolutely furious.
Further research disclosed that we have big-time trouble being happy and furious simultaneously. So mobility and happiness are directly linked. Again, how could the scholars have missed it? But there it sits – just like a Miami driver on the Palmetto.
Some of the report makes pretty good sense. Syrians ranked 156th of 158 nationalities in happiness back when figures were gathered. Today those beleaguered people would have to rank about 200th.
In a study that showed how national happiness had changed from 2005-2007 to the 2012-2014 period when data were gathered, Greece had gone down farther and faster than anyone. Look at the Greek financial crisis and you know why.
But researchers uncovered yet another serious issue. They call it the “laughter gap,” which might be the difference between those who read this report (smiling broadly or laughing out loud) and those who had not.
In brief, this gap shows that girls and younger women smile and laugh a whole lot more than older women. We think this needs more research, possibly including going back to junior high school with a video camera.
Because this report is intended to change how governments function, the key chapter is headed “How to make policy when happiness is the goal.” The careful findings could be summarized in two words: “Who knows?”
So the stumped researchers ask governments to individually make a cost-benefit analysis of happiness. “We urge Finance Ministries to take a lead in making this happen, as they have done with traditional cost-benefit analysis.”
In the United States, however, we don’t do cost-benefit analyses as a nation. Each lawmaker does his or her own, which amounts to “how many votes is this going to cost me versus how much will my campaign fund benefit?”
But if you asked taxpayers instead of officials to look at what low-cost actions government could take that would yield high-benefit public happiness, they’d keep it simple, no happiness study needed.
The public would ask elected officials to let the economy grow, improve transportation, do what you promised us at election time (whatever that was), treat us like adults, look at the big picture and long term, don’t waste our money, level the playing field for everyone, and play nicely together.
Oh, and smile more. Be happy.
Our researchers are out in the field right now gathering lots and lots of expensive data that will prove exactly what we’ve already told you the results should be.