Happiness Theory

Steven Rubio links to a Pew Foundation Study on happiness in America. Among other things, it suggests that there’s a connection between wealth (or income anyway) and reporting of happiness. Here’s the methodological issue — are people who report that they’re happy actually happy? This is a classic problem of social survey analysis based on self-reporting. People can lie and misrepresent. For instance, there may be greater self-pressure to report happiness at high income levels and unhappiness at low income levels. The other thing we don’t know, because the published report doesn’t tell us — is how the range of happinesses plays out across income. In other words, they trumpet the numbers about 50% of people making over 100K a year saying they are “very happy” but what about “moderately happy” or “not too happy”? Also, the whole “money doesn’t buy happiness” thing isn’t quite dead. After all, fully half the people making over $100K a year weren’t very happy (or so we are to surmise from the limited information available). Well, it’s pretty much certain if they’re not happy at $100K, they’re not going to be happy at $500K or any other number. They must have other issues That is, if we can even trust them to self-report their moods.

Certainly, we can’t trust bloggers to self-report their moods. I mean, I do sometimes, but not always. So I’ll tell you about something that made me strangely happy today.

As I may have mentioned in this space before, my role as an administrator is one of the parts of my job that I, er, “enjoy less.” Today, a mailing came out over the McGill listserv for graduate programme directors about a new policy that didn’t make much sense, at least the way it was worded.(1) Now, that listserv is normally for announcements, and I’ve never seen much discussion on it. But one by one, graduate programme directors posted their objection to the new policy as it had been worded. Math, Biology, Architecture, Psychology, all marching to the same drummer. I mean, I’ve been to meetings for grad directors, but somehow for just a moment I felt like something bigger. Even though it was really just that stupid listserv behavior where one person posts something and a bunch of people chime in with a “me too.” Hmm. Online community or delirium not enough sleep?

1. If it’s not clear why I don’t like administration, it’s because I find myself thinking about issues like whether and under what conditions faculty should be allowed to write on defense copies of dissertations. As opposed to, say, Verso’s new collection of speeches by Osama bin Laden or whether psychoacoustics partakes of the same universal subject posited by other psychological science or, well, a different one.