Are you happy? You may be in good company.
It's 8 a.m., the sun is beating down through the smog, and the temperature is already pushing 80 degrees.Skip to next paragraph
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More than a dozen grim-faced people are crowded at the corner of 86th and York waiting to climb on the bus. As they pile in, one after another, the sullen mood starts to shift, markedly.
"Good Morning! Good morning. How are you today?" bus driver Vincent Mashburn greets each passenger. "Welcome to the M86 Crosstown Bus!"
Mr. Mashburn believes people should be happy. And he's doing his best to have them leave his bus with a smile. "You come in here with a bad attitude, guess what? You leave here with a better frame of mind," he says. "If I'm happy, I want everybody else to be happy."
Happy New Yorkers? Happy Americans? Indeed, happiness appears to be making a comeback as the country bids goodbye to a century marked by its share of angst, uncertainty, and The Jerry Springer Show.
What appears to be a grass-roots "happiness movement" is sprouting on the Internet - with dozens of Web sites dedicated to "happiness and well-being." Politicians are pledging to go positive. And many advertisers are going upbeat, eschewing the starved heroin-chic look for wholesome, healthy models cavorting in meadows.
"I really do believe we're approaching a new paradigm," says Michael Lonergan, creator of the www.happyplace.net and a retired Pace University professor in New York. "We've so trivialized happiness that it's begun to mean nothing, but many are now saying, 'Why am I waiting for happiness, why is it something that's off in the future? It's something that should be here, right now.'"
The scientific study of happiness is also taking off with researchers around the world trying to understand just what it is that makes us content and brings a smile. But is this a fad, or a fundamental shift underlying the American psyche?
Looking on the bright side
One of the first things social scientists will tell you is that Americans are overall pretty happy - at least on the surface.
According to the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago, an average of 32 percent of Americans have consistently reported being "very happy" since 1972. About 56 percent report being "pretty happy." That leaves only about 12 percent who report being "not so happy." Those numbers have varied only slightly since 1957, when NORC started tracking the American mood.
"The present is just like the past," says Tom Smith, director of the General Social Surveys at NORC.
Or is it? That depends on how you define happiness.
In the post World War II era, happiness was heavily weighted toward economic security and financial success. That's changed in the last 25 years, according to researchers, toward being increasingly concerned with quality of life - from environmental protection to a greater concern for the quality of human relationships.
David Myers, author of "The Pursuit of Happiness," says that the average American's personal disposable income has doubled since the 1950s from $8,000 to $20,000 in constant dollars.