Sunday, May 25, 2008

Happiness is. . . . .

From the new mag, Miller-McCune:
What was once an internal monologue has broadened far beyond Kasser's research subjects and daily affairs. He has haltingly begun to wonder aloud about what kinds of laws, and even what kinds of political systems, might make people happiest, venturing outside the laboratory and classroom to assume a role that once made him very uncomfortable: political activist.

Kasser is among the loudest in a growing chorus of academics who are boldly — and, some say, prematurely — asking governments to transform the conclusions of the maturing body of happiness science into real-world public policies. They're pushing targeted regulations like limits on advertising to children. They want welfare programs to emphasize mental health. More generally, they hope governments will begin to make decisions with an eye toward citizens' life satisfaction. Governments in Europe and elsewhere have already put these concepts into practice, but even as Americans embrace the research personally by scooping up self-help books, happiness-oriented government in the United States remains far from a reality.

. . . . . .

Sometime around 1991, Kasser ran the regression that changed his life. Kasser, then a master's candidate in psychology at the University of Rochester in upstate New York, was studying people's goals, using a primitive tool he'd dubbed the "aspiration index." It asked subjects about their future lives and how important it was for them to be, for example, financially successful or involved in an intimate relationship.

After he'd collected the data, Kasser sat in front of the computer, searching for associations within the numbers. Several questions related to material goods, and a few asked subjects how they felt. Wow, Kasser wondered, wouldn't it be cool if people who cared about money were less happy? He assembled an equation, hit return and then waited. The result: a significantly negative correlation. After taking into account all of a subject's aspiration scores, the more materialistic the person, the less likely he was to be happy.

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