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