Happy people spend a lot of time socializing, going to church and reading newspapers — but they don’t spend a lot of time watching television, a new study finds.
That’s what unhappy people do.
For several decades, we owned a cabin in northern Minnesota. The man who built it was one of the happiest people I ever met.
He had gotten out of the construction trade in the city, moved to a lake, bought a country store he ran with his wife and on the side, built whatever needed building.
After he and his wife sold the store, for many years the new owners were bedeviled by middle of the night knocks on their door. See, Don was the kind of guy who would throw on his coveralls at two in the morning, fire up the truck and haul a stranger out of the ditch, laughing all the way.
If researchers had followed him around and tried to account for his high happiness score, I'm not sure they would've gotten to the bottom of it by his documenting his activities. He did most of the things the study associated with happy people, plus the aforementioned ditch-clearing, taking pot shots at barn cats and talking louder than 98% of the population (which may have had something to do with using chainsaws and nail guns most of his life).
It turns out there's a great deal of such happiness research. There's even a World Database of Happiness where you can drill down into all the correlations in various studies. Lots of work digs out correlations between political behavior and happiness; plain old love is not so well-represented.
These researchers looked at activities instead of demographics. Thanks to their work, we can now be more confident that the obvious is indeed obvious.
Watching television, I would suggest, is more an inactivity. It is not something you do. It represents the absence of something to do, of someone to talk to, of an interior life to indulge. In fact, according to the story, a "major predictor of how much time is spent watching television is whether someone works or not."
Besides getting a job and canceling cable, what else should Americans try to improve our pursuit of happiness?
happiness advocates for being the first country in the world to use the concept of gross national happiness as the basis for policy. In this fortunate nation, national dress is compulsory and, until
recently, television was banned.
— Happiness, Economics and Public Policy [Download pdf]
[Leading happiness advocates? Why has Katherine Kersten not yet written about this?] The authors go on to note that genocide is an ever-popular strategy for ensuring national happiness, at least for the nationals who are not being eradicated.
For these and other economists, neither love nor television is a "socioeconomic variable of interest." But even for items of acute interest, like, say, the performance of the mortgage market, professional economists have a rotten record of connecting the dots.