Monday, November 15, 2010

Happiness, Anger and Terrorism

Scientists in England and the U.S. are studying happiness: who is happy, why are they happy? Here's an excerpt from one new story on the subject:

Track Your is a recent project from a group of Harvard scientific researchers. The project’s goal is to, “investigate what makes life worth living.” Specifically, to see how the wandering mind and happiness correlate.
But how could this type of a survey really be effective when you would need the ability to invade the mind of your participant throughout the day for effective results?
Researchers were able to do something that traditional physiology methods have not allowed in the past: to intrude on the lives of their participants in a non-threatening and targeted way. What better means to prick the wandering mind than through what is the usual cause of a wandering mind- the smartphone.
This specific way of data collecting was made possible through (you guessed it) the iPhone…
The people behind “Track Your Happiness” explain their research,
“For thousands of years, people have been trying to understand the causes of happiness. What is it that makes people happy? Yet it wasn’t until very recently that science has turned its attention to this issue.
Track Your is a new scientific research project that aims to use modern technology to help answer this age-old question. Using this site in conjunction with your iPhone, you can systematically track your happiness and find out what factors – for you personally – are associated with greater happiness. Your responses, along with those from other users of, will also help us learn more about the causes and correlates of happiness.”
This intriguing research project is the brainchild of Matt Killingsworth, and is part of his doctrinal research at Harvard.
The research team has already conducted an official survey, based on samples from 2,250 adults. Of those 2,250, 58.8% were male and 73.9% of them live in the U.S. The average age of the surveyed was 34 years old.

According to NPR the British study is government sponsored. That's not as far fetched as it may seem at first blush. After all, our founders claimed that everyone is entitled to pursue happiness. Perhaps if we focused more on happiness and less on money and all the stuff it buys, we might not have all the anger that other observers see all around us. Witness these words from the editor of Vanity Fair Magazine in its November issue;

"Well, anger certainly continues to be all the rage in the corridors of American politics. Not to mention American corridors in general.... The general Obama rage out there is palpable.... What makes today's fury more worrying is the fact that angry right-wing extremists tend to carry guns in disproportionate numbers to their liberal counterparts."

He adds, "A distinguished colleague of mine likens the wiggy mood of the nation to that of a hormonal teenager."

And he goes on to contend, "This anger-fest is in no way confine do America. Indeed, in Europe it is becoming even uglier."

On the other side of the divide are the angry Islamic extremists.

Indeed, a colleague of mine has plotted the patterns of global rage in the internet age:

Here's a question: Are both sides POed at the same thing? ANd, if not, should they be?

Let me draw an historical analogy. Politicians in the Deep South for generations kept poor whites and poor blacks at each other's throats, while the political/economic elite profited and prospered.

Tim McVeigh felt rage. The 9/11 terrorists felt rage. The ELF and ALF eco-terrorists feel rage. That's the one thing all these terrorists seem to have in common.

The other thing they may have in common is that they feel oppressed by Big Government and Big Business.

In the 1960s many of my contemporaries tried to turn their backs on "Big Brother." They sought Nirvana. Not to many found it. But it was a good idea, all the same... at least in theory.

At least they didn't usually hurt anyone... except sometimes themselves.

So... happiness... rage... terrorism... time to pull back from the precipice?

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