Thursday, March 18, 2010

Don't Worry. Be Happy

A little over a year ago, while I was undergoing (successful) radiation treatment for prostate cancer, (pass the Viagra, please), I learned that my long-time position as editorial page editor was being eliminated. Such a luxury as an editorial editor no longer could be afforded by the idiots who ran a huge chain of monopoly newspapers.

Wow. It was a shock. And, sure, I was blue for a while. Until, before long, I realized I wasn't. I was happy.

It makes a guy question what the hell happiness is. And that's why I so eagerly read a review in this week's New Yorker by Elizabeth Kolbert. It was a review of several new books about exactly that - happiness.

The books (skip over this part if you don't care) were Derek Bok's "The Politics of Happiness: What Government Can Learn from the New Research on Well-being," Carol Graham's "Happiness Around the World: The Paradox of Happy Peasants and Miserable Millionaires," and Daniel Gilbert's "Stumbling on Happiness."

The authors all zero in on well-documented and counter-intuitive study results: While, to be sure, the rich report being happier than the poor, it turns out that lottery winners were no happier than non winners, 50 years of American prosperity and economic growth have made the average American no happier than his 1950s counterpart, and, yes, around the world and not only in this country, money and happiness don't equate. For instance, the percentage of people in Nigeria who rate themselves as being happy is the same as the percentage of people in Japan, although the per-capita Gross Domestic Product in Japan is nearly 25 times higher. Reviewer Kolbert wraps up her piece by suggesting that, in any event, fervent attempts to grow the economy at the expense of wrecking the Earth might not be a good trade-off.

I would agree. But the fact is that there are lots of theories about all this happiness stuff, none particularly convincing. I don't have a better one. But as I settle into my recliner with a good book - in this case, the new novel: "The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson" - I think I'll just be happy. Not to worry.

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