The Widdershins

Archive for October 18th, 2013

Good afternoon Widdershinners.  Since the world failed to implode on Wednesday evening and the House of Representatives are yet again on vacation anxiously awaiting their transport to the planet Tatooine, it’s a pretty good Friday.  Here’s hoping yours is a great one.

Before my parents became ill, I was involved in some pretty interesting research on happiness.  Not to worry, there were smart people designing and carrying out the research.  I was around for the purpose of lowering the collective I.Q. which I’m proud to say I carried out to great success.

Most of you might be familiar with the World Happiness Report conducted by the U.N.’s Sustainable Development World Happiness ReportInitiative.  It is quite helpful in providing a comparative basis upon which to compare countries at a macro level, but at a micro level it lacked actionability.  The reason is for over half the world’s population, the greatest drivers of happiness are directly related to having enough food and clean water.  Don’t get me wrong, that is important comparative data, but international mobility to change personal circumstance isn’t available to the vast majority of the world’s citizens.

So our research was focused at a more actionable level — the community.  Even in the first world residency is a considered proposition — people just don’t pick up and move their families on a whim.  In beginning the research, we thought it important to look at those things engaging people in their communities and thus, making them happy.  Our research then allowed us to compare “like communities in the same country” to measure engagement and happiness at the intra-country level.  This is an oversimplified explanation and it doesn’t do justice to the research, but that was the crux of the project.

We found some very interesting things.  Of course, economic factors and corruption-free government were highly correlative to engagement and happiness at the community level, but there were other more interesting ethereal aspects of happiness.

For instance, if you can see mountains or a large body of water everyday, you are more likely to be happy.  If your community has institutions like a university, a library, a museum, or even a zoo, you are more likely to be happy.  If your air and water supply are deemed to be pure, you are more likely to be happy.  The ratio of population to churches, schools, and parks were important indices.  The lower the ratio, the more likely you are to be happy.

Happy Road SignThese are all interesting, but there was another characteristic I found most fascinating since it cut across all the other physical indicators.  That characteristic was altruism.  How the community saw itself when it came to charity was hugely important when it came to happiness and engagement within the community.

Think about that for a second.  If a community saw itself fulfilling the social contract with those in need, the people affording the charitable selflessness were happier.  At the community level, happiness emanated from taking care of those having less.  That fact excites me to no end and gives me an abiding hope for the future.

For years now we have lost sight of that kind of positivity.  We have certainly lost sight of it during the last few weeks.

Last Friday I wrote about the “fear” of those in the Tea Party who felt they were “losing their America.”  Tuesday I wrote about the lack of empathy endemic to a country becoming more and more stratified by income disparity.  Today, I want to tie these threads into a nice positive bundle to send us off on a good note for the weekend.

As humans, we have an inborn, ingrained predilection to seek happiness.  Being inveterate social creatures, we generally want to be around happy people.  Doing good things for those who are in need makes us feel better about ourselves — it makes us happier.  As a people, we always gravitate to a future painted warm by happiness.

What we have seen in the last three weeks, and in general over the past decade or so, is a wallowing in just about everything leading to a lack of sustainable happiness.  The institution of government doesn’t seem to work because of obstructionism, women and children cut from the sustenance of WIC, seniors cut from Meals-on-Wheels, millions of needy proposed to be cut from food stamps, and the granddaddy of them all, a three-year political Texas cage match over access to health care.  Health care for goodness sakes!

Happy kitten interlude...just because I thought it was cute...

Happy kitten interlude…just because I thought it was cute…

In a death throe for a way forward, a fractious Republican Party has chosen a path that at its essence makes people feel hollowed out and unhappy.  The chosen path is one antithetical to how we want to see ourselves.  Let there be no doubt, this “I got mine, sorry about your luck” philosophy does enrage and activate a certain fifteen to twenty percent of the population, but according to the research, even those people will find no fulfillment from what they espouse.

Through fear, prompted by a super-wealthy class lacking in empathy, the Republican Party has cast their political lot.  The shortsightedness of this choice is exacerbated by its being centered around a dwindling age cohort of 65-plus.

The good news is remarkably simple:  Humans want to be happy.  Hurting people is the antithesis of the altruism we seek.  The lack of empathy will always be outweighed by the happiness charity provides.  And by its very nature, fear is transitory and must be constantly recharged as to be actionable — it is not a condition of emotional permanence.  It takes little insight to see the foolishness underpinning the GOP strategy.

What we have seen the last three weeks is the last gasp of unhappy people peddling totems of unhappiness for short-term political survival.  The target audience is a dwindling minority who, by their very nature, are looking for happiness.  This strategy is doomed by its essence and self-defeating in its execution.  It will soon pass.

It can’t help but not pass.

This weekend I hope you can see mountains or water or whatever else that makes you happy.  After these last few weeks, we all deserve it.

This is an open thread.

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