Is happiness linked to quality-of-life factors like climate?
A new report finds a close match between individual happiness and objective quality-of-life measures such as climate, air quality, and schools. But others say happiness is more nearly tied to family, friends, and religion.
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Study too esoteric and abstract?
Others say that the study is too esoteric and abstract to be useful, that there is a danger in thinking that happiness can be defined.Skip to next paragraph
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“This study doesn’t pass my smell test,” says radio host Debbie Mandel, author of “Addicted to Stress: A Woman’s 7-Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life.”
If particular physiological readings are to be taken as measures of human happiness because they correlate with subjective well-being scores, she says, “then those readings do not simultaneously provide – unless it has been established by another method that such readings truly measure happiness – an independent validation of the meaningfulness of subjective well-being data; biological indicators are not themselves unambiguous measures of human happiness. Hence there exists a circularity that needs somehow to be broken.”
Still others say the researchers’ premises and methodology are flawed.
“The study is trying to link people’s subjective reports of happiness (or unhappiness) with objective conditions like weather, job market, school systems, traffic, air quality,” says author B.J. Gallagher, author of “Why Don’t I Do the Things I Know Are Good for Me?” In other words, they want to try to find a connection between external circumstances and internal feelings. The danger in that, she says, is that correlation does not imply causation.
Correlation may not imply causation
“That is, just because two things seem to be correlated ... i.e., they go up and down together ... does not mean that one caused the other. In this case, it does not mean that nice weather, a good job market, and clean air are what make people feel happy.”
Ms. Gallagher also notes that there is no mention of family, friends, or religion in the study, factors that hugely influence people’s happiness.
“Millions of people live in miserable climates, with lousy job markets, low standards of living, poor schools, and many other unfavorable factors ... and they are still happy,” says Gallagher.
“Louisiana is a case in point,” she says. “This new study reports that the happiest people are those in Hawaii and in Louisiana. So is it the climate or the tight family structures and strong community ties? I would argue that it’s the latter, not the former. Hawaii has a wonderful climate and Louisiana has a terrible climate, yet both states have the happiest people? It is not objective circumstance that make it so. I suspect it is their social fabric: Hawaii is heavily Asian with strong family ties and good community values and Louisiana’s background is heavily influenced by French Catholics and Haitians, also with strong social ties.”
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