Life Narratives and Happiness

Here’s a TED Talk about a 75-year-old longitudinal study of what keeps people happier and healthier.

It makes logical sense, but I kept having this nagging feeling about the sample–724 men. (Race is not identified, so I tend to assume that the sample comprised white men).  It also included no women. None? Well, in a passing comment we’re told:

When, about a decade ago, we finally asked the wives if they would join us as members of the study, many of the women said, “You know, it’s about time.”

True, very true. But it was just wives of the surviving subjects who were invited in. And I can see that you can’t mess up your sample, and you have no control over the original sample that was taken at a time when the masculine gender was thought to include the feminine. All that is fine. But why, then, are the conclusions presented in 2017 as if they were applicable to “people” in general–that is to say, to us, the viewers. whatever our gender may be?

I know, I know, we can’t change history. But do I have to trust the narrative that chooses to study one half of a population and then applies its findings to all of us? Even if it’s an outcome I really want to be true? Even if it’s commonsense that you live longer and happier when you are loved, loving, trusted, trusting–it’s all good, but you know, where are the women? Probably just not deemed worth studying.

The Mark Twain quote, now, that I do get.

“There isn’t time, so brief is life,for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account.There is only time for loving,and but an instant, so to speak, for that.”

Oh, give me good fiction, any day.

Happiness Day


We’ve all got things to be miserable about, but today, it seems, is the International Day of Happiness. Happiness, that’s right. An NPR post on the subject brought back memories of hiking in Nepal. Excerpt:

Working is my happiness. I go to my fields every day. We grow everything we eat: garlic, rice, vegetables. I have done this since I was a child. And I love Bollywood movies. Tara Devi, about 46

Reading makes me happy. My sister and I will be the first girls in our family to go to college. Devaki, 16

I figured that I’d sensed that kind of joyfulness because I wanted to. It must have been my skewed perception, because how can you judge happiness in a whole country? It seems absurd, but maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s the abundance of running water everywhere that releases positive ions or something. The photos on the United Nations page are a reminder of how much happiness in the world is tied up with the presence of children. The government of tiny Bhutan is a leader in the conversation about happiness, suggesting that while the meeting of basic needs matters, wealth does not equal happiness. Bhutan has famously adopted a goal of gross national happiness over gross national product (GNP).

Here’s the world’s happiest playlist.