“Happiness” survey sadly misses the mark

When our Founding Fathers crafted that magnificent document we know as the Declaration of Independence, incorporating those seven words defining true freedom as, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” they had something more important in mind than how well-rested one feels or how many fruits and vegetables one consumes weekly.  Yet, these dietary and sleep habits are among the dozens of “well-being” indices used by Gallup in determining how happy Americans are in this 235th year of our Independence.

The six major categories of “well-being sub-indexes” that comprise the 2010 Gallup-Healthways “Well-Being Index” purporting to gauge how happy we are, includes no factors even remotely related to the concept of liberty that was the foundation of the system created by our truly greatest generation – the one that carved out of tyranny a blueprint for freedom that has long outlived our Founding Fathers’ mortal lives.

That contemporary happiness and well-being is measured not by actual economic and political liberty, but by mundane symbols of a person’s material condition such as “smiling or laughter,” “being treated with respect,” and “eating healthy,” illustrates how far we have strayed from our Founders’ vision.

The latest such “wellness” survey results published earlier this month offer an entertaining, if superficial picture of a society consumed with healthy eating habits and pleasant job experiences.  That the overall environment in which such elementary indices of happiness are pursued is one in which economic and personal liberty is increasingly circumscribed, however, figures not a whit in this analysis.

The superficiality of the survey is perhaps best captured in the hardly- revealing finding that the length of time a person might have to spend looking for a job may affect how happy he or she is during that search.  Whoa; that’s heavy, Man.

For the person constantly searching for new ways to rank everything from movies to meals, however, the latest Well-Being Index is a veritable gold mine.  In it, one discovers that Hawaii is the happiest state; while citizens of West Virginia are to be pitied because they live in the least happy state.  In between, one finds my home state of Georgia (No. 31), where we are, apparently, only moderately happy.  This was news to me; but who am I to dispute a national survey?

Other well-being “facts” abound.  Men are happier than women (way to go, Men).  Married individuals are happier than those who are separated (no real surprise there). Asians are happier than Hispanics (hmmmmm; interesting). And those who are 65 or older tend to be happier than younger folks (since I’m not yet 65, it’s nice to know I have something to look forward to). Can I be forgiven if in my opinion all this is absolute silliness and a waste of time?

But, it doesn’t stop there.  The New York Times took this absurdity a step further by actually requesting that Gallup come up with a “statistical composite” of the “happiest person in America.” The polling company found that composite to be, “a tall, Asian-American, observant Jew who is at least 65 and married, has children, lives in Hawaii, runs his own business and has a household income of more than $120,000 a year.” They even went so far to find an actual person to fit the bill.

The nonsensical definition of “happiness” provided in this Gallup-Healthways survey may provide governments and policy wonks with a trove of data to pour through as they determine the best ways to spend taxpayer dollars “to make people happy” or improve our quality of life.

Such exercises as the annual “Well-Being Index,” however, completely miss the point.  As the Greek historian Thucydides recognized two-and-one-half millennia ago, “happiness depends on being free.”  No matter how many portions of vegetables one eats each week, if a person is not free, they cannot be truly happy.  Stick that in your survey and chart it.

-by Bob Barr, The Barr Code

35 comments Add your comment

Flush with Flourish

March 21st, 2011
7:22 am

Again, Bob Barr finishes one cliche/metaphor away from a Geico commercial.

First, mr Bob, it’s “Life Liberty AND happiness”, not “life, liberty, OR happiness”. You said that the survey din’t make no mention of liberty as if it were synonomous wid happiness. WRONG. It’s life, livery, AND the happy thing. They are distinct and separate, just like our branches of government.

You get everything wrong and I think it stinks.

And think ’bouts this: how happy was Kruschev? Mao? W? Tyranny makes for very happy Tyrants. You’re happy (slap-happy) because you get to stooge-slap me with these nonsensical pieces about Big Brother ruining our liberty. Then you write this piece about how happy we all should be that Big Brother doesn’t exist. Hey! Pick an unsubstantiated slant and stick with it.

Formula for happiness: Scottish Oatmeal. Blue berries. A desultory, laconic wife with curves in the right places, and regular doses of Curly. Everyone’s Free in America, (but not everyone is happy).

Smoke on your pipe and put THAT in!!

Joel Edge

March 21st, 2011
7:32 am

Good article. I think it should be fairly easy to gauge the happiness of the American public without the poll. Right now, we’re not happy at all. Come on 2012.


March 21st, 2011
7:43 am

“how far we have strayed from our Founders vision”

Bob, our Founders meant for us to be free to pursue our own ideas of happiness. To restrict this to your own ideas of what happiness is or what you think happiness meant to them is typical of extreme right-wing Republicans who are convinced that only they know what is good for the people. I have the LIBERTY to decide for myself what happiness means, thanks to the Founding Fathers and no thanks to you extreme right-wingers.

the watch dog

March 21st, 2011
8:34 am

I have to agree, a bowl of oatmeal can be the start to a happy day, ofcourse, if 2 tablespoons of wheat bran are added plus two fishoil pills, 1 multivitamin and a diruretic pill. The day now has fantastic possiblities. I asked a fella what was a good day for him and he replied, “any day he got out of bed”. I did not know that happiness came from the Declaration of Independence. I asked a man who was in his 90s if he was going to vote[it was election day] and he said he had never voted, he was living on a fixed income and he appeared perfectly happy. He said if I would zip up his jacket for him, he would be happy. Happiness is the most nebulous of emotions. Take myself, I feel grand. Nothing particular that I can point to. Marlon Brando was 65 and sitting around a movie set with a house dress on being interviewed by Connie Chung. She asked him what was his happiest time. He said right now, I am 65 and I am happy and I don’t know why. If you feel good and don’t know why, that is happiness.


March 21st, 2011
9:03 am

Yeah. What Carlo said. I concur.


March 21st, 2011
9:06 am

Barr I can’t understand why you aren’t happy. You get to get paid to phone in drivel to the AJC 3x a week; have paid guest spots as a political “analyst”; have a nice looking wife, and all your hair. You should be ecstatic.


March 21st, 2011
9:13 am

Well, Bob, if freedom = happy, your years as a prosecutor in the drug wars were certainly no contribution to the National Happiness Index. And you’re getting cranky over the Gallup pollsters? Unlike you, they haven’t deprived a single person of their freedom.


March 21st, 2011
9:15 am

Put it this way, if Bob’s not happy then nobody else has a right to be. And Bob’s never happy. Hasn’t been since his impeachment days.


March 21st, 2011
9:39 am


March 21st, 2011
10:18 am

Sounds like, to some people, happiness is a regular stool. Well, certainly you can’t say these people are full of sh..t.


March 21st, 2011
10:24 am

What’s really sad is that Americans so love their polls and surveys that they will measure themselves against the results.


March 21st, 2011
10:36 am

I agree that freedom (liberty) is the ultimate test of happiness, with the right to privacy as a close second or related element. Aristotle also said happiness depends on moral virtue, but also at least some degree of material goods and a bit of luck. So the moral person still looking for a job and is threatened with bankruptcy would not be counted as happy. Many of our freedoms are also daily in institutional practices, such as the public school systems that require increasing credentials (taking forever) just to get a teaching job. Sounds good, unless you’re on the outside looking in.


March 21st, 2011
11:01 am

Happiness is a porch swing, a joint, and a cold beer.

Joe Mama

March 21st, 2011
11:05 am

Having lived in Hawaii, I can say that the people there are generally nicer and happier than folks I’ve met anywhere else in the US. They don’t have a lot of material things and a lot of them make do with pretty meager means, but by and large, they are a happy and kind-hearted bunch of folks.


March 21st, 2011
11:19 am

West Virginia finished last in the “Happiness” survey. I moved to North Central West Virginia from my native Atlanta area 4 years ago and I can tell you that I am much happier here. The residents here seem pretty happy, too. That was a long way of saying that survey is garbage.

Thulsa Doom

March 21st, 2011
12:36 pm

Happiness= the govt staying out of people’s lives and people being free from govt.


March 21st, 2011
12:46 pm

Interesting article this idea of freedom by the founding fathers. Was that done before they discovered the Native Americans who were already living here and did they just not take into account all those slaves out there working for the betterment of themselves. I suppose the idea of freedom was only for a certain group.


March 21st, 2011
1:20 pm

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose and it ain’t nothing if it ain’t free; but feeling good is good enough for me.


March 21st, 2011
1:23 pm

Do this again after the federal reserve printing presses destroy the dollar and the economy along with it. Ask too when the Social Security checks stop coming or when the dollars they deliver won’t even buy a loaf of bread. You are right Bob, the survey misses the point of Happiness entirely. Shut down the federal government and then ask me how happy I am — that is if you can get me to wipe the huge grin off my face long enough to answer.

I absolutely hate that wannabe libertarian Neal Boortz, but he is right when he says that its all about bread and circuses and keeping the masses entertained. This poll is just another measure of that and a way for the elites who oppress us and micromanage our lives to tell if the natives are getting too restless.


March 21st, 2011
1:26 pm

Great comments Aquagirl, you beat me to the punch. Bob has a lot of misery and human suffering to make up for and the Drug War is just the tip of the iceberg.


March 21st, 2011
2:03 pm

Really? A Gallup puff poll and a New York Times puff piece? That’s what you’re complaining about?

Look, this is just a silly poll. It’s not an infringement on your liberty, and it doesn’t say anything about America or its values. It just says that someone at Gallup had some free time. I mean, you actually go so far as to criticize the New York Times for doing a silly little “happiest man in America” article — an article clearly meant tongue-in-cheek, and with all the import of a box of bologna. It’s silly. It draws a few readers. They chuckle. Life goes on.

You raise the spector of this being used somehow for some official policy-setting purpose — but come on. That’s not happening — you just needed to give this comment some weight, and thought that might help. No one reads Beetle Bailey to decide whether to go to war, and no one sets policy based on some silly poll in the “Living” section.

What a silly column, Bob.


March 21st, 2011
2:19 pm

‘Was that done before they discovered the Native Americans who were already living here and did they just not take into account all those slaves out there working for the betterment of themselves. I suppose the idea of freedom was only for a certain group.’

How original. Imposing todays morals on yesterdays people. What are you? 12?


March 21st, 2011
2:32 pm

I don’t think one can truly be happy unless they have access to the freshest Kazakh breast milk cheese.


March 21st, 2011
2:59 pm

Smeagol thinks no one can be truly happy unless they has their precccioussss.


March 21st, 2011
3:34 pm

Wasn’t it originally going to be “life, liberty, and property?”


March 21st, 2011
4:23 pm

Sadly it was going to be Life, Liberty and Property but given that they weren’t going to deal with the slavery issue it came off badly with that wording. This is terribly unfortunate as the “persuit of happiness” is predicated on a government that first and foremost respects one’s property rights. Today we have virtually no property rights and thus we have no liberty and tenuous life. You do not own anything that the government can take away from you for non-payment of their taxes. You do not own anything that the government can dictate the use of – including your own body. We do not have property. We only rent and use at the pleasure of the imperial overlords that infest DC and our state houses. Welcome to Amerika USSA.

The Real Left Wing

March 21st, 2011
5:12 pm

True happiness is Patriot living with Aquagirl and Debbie Do Right in their new double wide with a fist full of new food stamps to use at the IGA. Government living at its finest!

Hillbilly Deluxe

March 21st, 2011
6:01 pm

“how far we have strayed from our Founders vision”

Alexander Hamilton’s vision was a lot different than Thomas Jefferson’s. The Founding Fathers weren’t a homogenous group that agreed on everything. The disagreed on lots of things. That’s one reason the Constitution is vague on some things. It’s the only way they could get it ratified. Some things they spelled out and on some things, they kicked the can down the road.


March 21st, 2011
6:46 pm

A silly survey, but just one of the many silly things in life. One of them is Bob Barr’s silly column about it.


March 21st, 2011
11:39 pm

f$ck the racist slaveholding founding fathers

Flush with Flourish

March 22nd, 2011
7:29 am

Because many of the founding fathers had slave concubines who they treated like foundlings, down to a man, (and then they laughed about it), they should be called our fondling fathers. Oh what poets they were! The language they formed to express how a people should govern themselves is the climax of our civilization, second only to the language used to instruct partners about mutual climax on page 37 of the Kama Sutra. But can we blame those historical giants for their indiscretions? Slaves were the internet porn of 1776. I mean, how addicting it must have been!! I had jungle fever once. I’ll never be the same. I crossed a Rubicon of broken and unspoken taboos and entered Shangri La. I felt I could have fathered a country, man.

But then I was just another lost angel. Let us celebrate those angels better than ourselves and toast our founders.

To Aaron Burr! It wasn’t just his trigger finger that itched! And to Benjamin Franklin, who started the sexual revolution of the 60’s. (the 1760’s that is).



March 22nd, 2011
12:37 pm

True happiness is Patriot living with Aquagirl and Debbie Do Right in their new double wide with a fist full of new food stamps to use at the IGA.

Yo Mama!! :)


March 22nd, 2011
1:33 pm

Made you look. Ha Ha

Jacqueline Johns - Your Happy Life Mentor

March 22nd, 2011
8:54 pm

Y’all should move to Down Under to Australia.

We didn’t need founding/fondling fathers to give us permission to be happy – we just are.

Bob may need a Happy Life Mentor to show him the ropes.

Live Life Happy!

Jesse Pokora

March 23rd, 2011
4:15 pm

This guy missed the mark on reading. Well-being is not synonymous for happiness. If you look at the actual findings of the gallop poll website it reads: men have more -well-ness- than woman. Which is just a term to state a total comparison for all of their indicators. He disingenuously rewords wellness to read happiness, which distorts the findings of the study to suit his agenda. If he wants to have a discussion on liberty and ots relation to happiness, maybe he should put in the time and effort to run a study on it.