Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The ten percent...and the 40 thousand

In 2007, Sonja Lyubomirsky, in her book The How of Happiness, popularized her research findings that only 10% of one's happiness is influenced by the "domains of happiness," what she calls "circumstances" and most of us would call "the world" (or our environment, society, economy, community, government; the external influences out side of our control but very much present in our lives - you get the picture).  She relied heavily on her own research to come up with her now famous graph:
(Spoiler: take this graph with a HUGE grain of salt - in fact, a salt-mine's worth)

If you look closely, (e.g. in the notes for the chapter - tucked away at the end of the book), you will find that although she builds her conclusion on well-grounded work by the likes of Ed Diener, Tim Kasser and other researchers, her conclusion is based on her study of - and this is important - a pretty small "representation" of Americans; something looking like the 1%.   

In 2013, in her book "The Myths of Happiness" she reveals the world she is living in, and perhaps her blindness to the reality for the majority of this planet's population with some of her advice for happiness:
- Spend your money on experiences like a vacation (this in the chapter for the broke)
- Buy fresh flowers frequently instead of a big sound system (again, in the chapter for the broke)
and here I ask: Who are these broke?  Does she know what broke is? What it means to have to choose between food or health care and to not even notice the flowers in the grocery store because there is absolutely no way you will be able to afford them?  

More advice from "The Myths of Happiness":
"Do you have a tendency to be short with the people you employ or supervise - your office assistant, perhaps or your gardener or nanny....For the next four weeks...when the urge comes on to be curt or harsh, resolve to imagine that the person is your therapist, minister or boss, and treat them accordingly." (p. 180). OUCH! 

Now, this is not to say that Lyubomirsky's books don't have some good advice - they do. In fact they have some really good advice. It's just that they are grounded on findings that are simply not true for 95-99% of the world's population.

When I give talks on happiness, sometimes people in the audience will come to the conclusion (and often state it very loudly) that they just realized their happiness is all up to them - all one has to do is change one's mind and behavior.  Without embarrassing or humiliating that person, I give one of two stories to help that person understand how important equity and our circumstances are.  Here I will give one of the stories.

My good friend's son-in-law passed away three years ago. He was a father of 3, less than forty. He died of liver and kidney failure (was terribly sick a long time before dying) and heart disease. He was black, grew up in South Seattle, next to a dry cleaner.  Dry cleaner operations and gas stations are known to be among the most toxic sites in the urban landscape. One can't prove that he died early after a long illness from growing up next to the dry cleaner, but ask yourself: would you be happy if you or your children grew up in the same circumstances as my friend's son-in-law? Would you say your happiness, and the happiness of your widow or widower and fatherless children is all in your head? 

Truth is, we - from the researchers and scientists to the every day folk - don't yet understand enough about what makes us happy in terms of the "domains of happiness" (our circumstances), our "genetic set-point", and our thoughts and behaviors, to make the kind of assertion 
Lyubomirsky has. What is more, it is quite likely that all three are interconnected. Think about it from a common-sense perspective and it makes sense that it would be.

This week we passed the 40,000 mark with now over 40,000 individual people having taken the Gross National Happiness Index, a subjective well'being indicator based on Bhutan's Gross National Happiness Index and integrating the United Kingdom's Wellbeing index, and other important indices.   Each person received their own personal assessment of how well things are going in their lives in terms of their feelings, satisfaction with life and the domains of happiness (environment, social support, government, economy, work, time-balance, community, health and lifelong learning & culture).  When one reads through the comments and looks at the data, it indicates that common sense....makes sense.  Circumstances do matter, and matter quite a bit, for our happiness.  In the coming year, I will be writing on what the data says, and what the comments indicate. Stay tuned. 

- Laura Musikanski,  Executive Director, the Happiness Alliance home of the Happiness Initiative and Gross National Happiness Index. 

1 comment:

  1. Now i ain't sayin' she's a gold digger, but she ain't messin' with no broke'd broke