Friday, April 1, 2011

Academic Research on Happiness Proves Once Again That Academic Research on Happiness Stupid

Activities in the order of  Least-Happy/Unfocused to Happiest/Focused:
Commuting, Working, Reading, Personal Grooming, Shopping, Caring for
One's Kids, Eating, Praying and Meditating, Listening to Music, Taking a
Walk, Talking with Others, Exercising, Having Sex.
Here's the thing: I've always been interested in happiness and the way we go about achieving it.  I remember the first time I thought "formally" about happiness--it was in Professor Fischer's Introduction to Philosophy course, when we discussed Socrates' views on happiness serving as the highest good, that for which we all strive.  It made a huge impact on me, as it made happiness a goal rather than a simple state-of-being. 

 However.  I also feel that this goal is highly individualistic, and while we can go around interviewing people to find out what makes them happy, this information won't really do me as an individual that much good as I try to find happiness.  Fast-forward to this week, when I was flipping through my Whole Living magazine and found the above chart depicting levels of happiness in relation to level of focus.  (And, yes, I did take the picture with my camera phone.  Technology what?)

What stood out to me was the examples of activities that sit at each level of the chart, with "Commuting" and "Working" serving as examples of when we are least-focused and "Having Sex" and "Exercise" serving as examples of when we are most-focused.  (Excuse me for disagreeing--if I was 100% focused during exercise, I would never do it because I wouldn't be able to distract myself from the unmitigated misery of it all.)  Falling into place on this spectrum, from most- to least-focused is "Talking With Others," "Listening to Music," "Eating," and "Reading." 

Wait, what?  How in the world can someone be more focused on eating than reading?  I strongly suspect this is not the case when 66% of Americans watch tv while eating dinner.

The whole thing reeked of stupidity to me, so I did a little digging and found out that the chart was based on research conducted by Matthew Killingsworth, a doctoral student at Harvard, who started, where
"iPhone owners could sign up to receive one or more text messages a day. These texts nudged them to visit an online survey to report how happy they were feeling and pick from 22 different choices, including shopping, watching television, or working, to describe what they were doing right then. Subjects also recorded whether they were thinking about that activity or about something else that was pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant." (Science Magazine.)
Really.  You expect me to believe that respondents immediately answered survey questions about how "happy" they were feeling during sex?  Uh-huh, that's not distracting at all, when the study attempts to prove that "how focused" someone is has a direct impact on how "happy" they are.  I will also hazard the suggestion here that the Americans who took don't know the difference between "feeling physically good" and "feeling emotionally happy," as shown by the fact that "Eating" rates higher than "Caring For One's Kids." There's a difference.
Anyway, it just goes to prove that the pursuit of happiness really belongs in the philosophical world rather than the scientific.  If you'd like to take part in a narcissistic study and be interrupted during things that make you happy, you can sign up for it at here.

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