A Happiness Experiment
Researchers from the University of Illinois and the University of Pennsylvania proclaim with totemic authority that, in a 1985 survey, respondents from the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans and the Maasai of East Africa were almost equally satisfied and ranked relatively high in well-being. The Maasai are a traditional herding people who have no electricity or running water and live in huts made of dung.
This suggests an obvious experiment. Send the researchers from Illinois and Pennsylvania, along with Richard Layard and the rest of the happiness contingent, to live in Maasai for three years. If they choose to remain there afterwards, consider the experiment a success.
If some of the Maasaians want to trade places with Layard and come to the west, that’s fine. But they shouldn’t be forced to. They’re not the ones trying to jerk my chain with these so-called “findings” based on research that is fundamentally unsound.
Of course, Will Wilkinson has a delightful blog that’s All Happiness, All the Time. In one recent post, he refers to a study showing that Republicans report being happier than Democrats. Of course, if support for heavy-handed government intervention in the economy leads you to be an unhappy person (or, more likely, vice-versa), then it’s a fair guess that the happiness-research crowd is a rather miserable lot.