Sunday, October 14, 2007

Science of happiness

A RESEARCH official was unhappy with the results of a recent study on what makes Filipinos happy.

According to an Oct. 10, 2007 Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) report, the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) released a Happiness Index, which had 167 Filipinos ranking family, health and religion/spiritual work as the top three sources of happiness.

The NSCB secretary general releasing the report was none too happy though. According to the PDI report, the official was “incredulous” that other factors did not fare better. Sex life, for instance, was just no. 14 while politics figured last at no. 17.

His speculation was that the respondents may have been just “too shy to reveal their true feelings” about the national obsession with sex and politics.

Given how every government tic and blunder causes rippling waves of discontent among the populace, it mystifies that public resources and work hours would be spent measuring such a scarce quality as happiness. Shouldn’t the state care more to monitor the levels of toxins poisoning Filipinos?

A check with Internet sources reveals, fortunately, that happiness studies are quite in vogue, not pursued only by the terminally wasteful and marginally productive.

According to a BBC report, the science of happiness is undertaken precisely because the feeling is too vague. Thus, the best brains have tried to pin down this emotion.

Mike Rudin, series producer of “The Happiness Formula,” a six-part series BBC aired in 2006, writes that measurement techniques range from the social scientists’ straightforward method of asking a person, “are you happy?” to “ecological momentary assessments” using handheld computers and personal digital assistants (PDAs).

One adviser to the British prime minister even speculated that PDA data may be used soon for assessing the extent governments make their public happy. Will being bleeped and asked to answer a 20-point questionnaire on happiness not just predispose one to anxiety and impatience, observable among executives diagnosed with Blackberry Syndrome?

The BBC also reports that surveys with large respondents show that happy people live longer than depressed ones. While heavy smoking shaves off six years from a smoker’s lifespan, an American psychologist cites records showing that a disgruntled lot kicked the bucket nine years before a control group with a sunny disposition.

The BBC report was not clear though if among the disgruntled were smokers forced to stop cold turkey while the happy survivors counted among them a few blissfully puffing away till the end of their lives.

PDI also reported the Philippines ranks in the “middle range” of the World Database of Happiness Index (WDHI). This means that a Filipino is approximately as happy as a native in India, Iran, Poland and South Korea. Denmark currently tops the WDHI.

The WDHI may raise the assumption that prosperity is a cause behind happiness. Not so, says many happiness researchers.

While pleasure from the material quickly wears off, the happiness from relationships is deeper and lasts longer, even granting natural immunization from certain microbes. According to BBC, one British economist calculated that one needs only “extra cash amounting to £50,000” to make up for not having friends.

Then again, it is unclear how long £50,000 can last.

Assuming it works, marriage creates enough happiness to prolong a man’s life by seven years, a woman’s by four, says the BBC report. On the other hand, the loss of a good spouse causes serious setbacks.

According to positive psychologists, happiness can be found by seeking meaning in something “bigger than oneself.” Happiness scientists say meaning can be found in spirituality and challenging goals, but left out sex and politics. 09173226131

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