The Happiest Person In America: What's Sex Got To Do With It?
by: David Leonhardt
Who is the happiest person in America? USA Today featured Happiest Person in a cover story in its USA Weekend magazine. Bad news: it's not you. Nor is it me.
Just how did they find Happiest Person and determine that he is indeed the happiest person in America? The USA Today research team appears to have used an elegantly simple three-step process.
First, they identified "the world's leading authority on happiness", Martin Seligman ... which must have come as a wee bit of a surprise to several of his equally well-known and equally well-respected peers. How they picked Seligman remains more of a mystery than how a land-locked nation of mountains and yodeling became home to the holy grail of yachting, but we are working feverishly to crack the code.
Next, they asked Seligman to name six principles of happiness. Seligman listed couple strengths, a win-win approach, savoring success, playing to one's strengths, opening doors to opportunity and finding meaning in life.
Finally, they applied Seligman's principles to determine who best matches them. Naawww, just kidding. That would make way too much sense. Instead, USA Today created a make-believe process of its own that stands out from Seligman's list like the Jolly Green Giant at a dwarf convention. Here is the USA Today process.
Geography. It seems that Happiest Person must live in the best place to live, which is Virginia Beach, in case you didn't know. If somebody even happier than Happiest Person lives in San Francisco or Vermont, the USA Today research team does not want to know.
Why confine their search to one town? Could geography be the secret to happiness that Seligman failed to mention? True, research does show that people living in free societies tend to be happier than others, but there is no evidence that where you live within the free world makes a difference.
Sex. Women are prone to higher emotional highs and lower emotional lows, whereas men are prone to more constant emotions. So Happiest Person must be a man, concludes USA Today. While the science does hit the bull's eye, the conclusion misses the barn wall. I suppose they'll be telling us that Seattle is the sunniest spot in America because the weather fluctuates less than in The Sunshine State.
Family. Happiest Person is married, has children, and is healthy. People with intimate relationships do tend to be happier, and marriage is a fairly good indicator (especially for men). And health is important. These may not be among Seligman's six principles, but let's not argue against good health.
Money. Happiest person has a "good, dependable job" as a stockbroker, a 2,300 square foot house (with an eat-in kitchen and a deck!). The truth comes out Emoney does buy happiness, according to the USA Today research team.
In fact, studies show that money makes a difference only if it elevates a person above the poverty level. When a person has means enough not to struggle for basic necessities, money rarely buys happiness.
Brand-awareness. This one must have made the big ad agency tycoons drool in their Corn Flakes. Happiest Person is for real because he likes all the right brands! He "digs" Coca-cola, so he must be the real thing. And he loves Craftsman tools and Dell computers. Say no more.
Where does the USA Weekend exposEleave the rest of us? If you are a little old lady enjoying retirement in Atlanta or a student conquering new fields of knowledge in Ann Arbor, you clearly are not happy enough for USA Today. But cheer up, even The Happy Guy eats "donuts" rather than "Krispy Kremes".
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