Why Aren’t We Happy?

Americans today enjoy a growing economy, low unemployment and an ever-improving standard of living – but we aren’t getting any happier.

The 2018 World Happiness Report and Gallup’s Well-Being Index reveal American happiness at its lowest level since 2006, with every single state in the union in decline since 2009. Americans report feeling more depression, more day-to-day worry, less “positive energy” from family and friends, and less satisfaction with their work and personal lives than they did a year ago. America is bummed out.

It’s tempting to assume this drop-off is another symptom of today’s political, racial and class tension, but falling happiness isn’t reserved for the “forgotten class” or a sign that Republicans have succeeded in their quest to “own the libs” into permanent depression.1 Surprisingly, more affluent and educated states have experienced a steeper decline in happiness than states with lower median incomes or less educational achievement. The deterioration of our national mood didn’t begin with the last election cycle either; Gallup found that well-being is higher in states that disapprove of the President.

Political, racial and economic divides contribute to the happiness equation, but none of these divides correlate strongly with the recent slump. Something else is going on here.

Jeffrey Sachs, a Columbia University economist and co-author of the World Happiness Report, argues that the US “offers a vivid portrait of a country that is looking for happiness in all the wrong places.”

The pursuit of happiness is a fundamental American right. It’s time we learn to look in the right direction.

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How Language Shapes Your World

To see how language shapes experience, take a visit to wine country.

A vineyard doesn’t take shape naturally. Fields of grapes are organized rank-and-file, an infantry of vines standing at attention in tidy rows and columns. Identical wooden frames steer the vines’ winding growth off its natural path into a tight, upright posture. In hilltop tasting rooms, leather-tanned locals with bleach-blonde hair pour reds and whites as much into glasses as into categories. Fruit-forward or dry, bold or buttery.  

If you’re like me, you can’t tell the difference after your first sip. Tastes like… wine. Then someone explains what you’re tasting – what you should be tasting. “The Syrah,” your guide explains, “is dry and heavy, with a cherry finish.” You drink again.

Of course – I get it now. With a frame to rest on, the flavor of the second sip snaps around the words into its own orderly, defined posture. Dry. Cherry. The words give more than a description; knowing the words makes the wine taste different.

We often think of language as a tool for describing our experiences and communicating with one another. Research suggests, however, that language can reach beyond description to influence what we see, think and remember. Our thoughts and experiences grow around the structure that language provides.

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Odds Are, You’re Reading The Odds Wrong

The Weather Channel forecasts a 30% chance of rain tomorrow – and it absolutely pours. Was the Weather Channel’s prediction wrong?

To quote the prophet Andre 3000, “you can plan a pretty picnic – but you can’t predict the weather.” Of course they got it wrong, weathermen are morons!

Based on his career batting average of .305, a fan predicts that there is a ~70% chance Mike Trout will fail to get a hit in an at-bat. Of course, Trout goes 9-for-13 the next weekend. Was the fan’s prediction wrong?

Let me explain something to you, poindexter. Baseball isn’t a math problem. Hitters have hot stretches every once in a while, but that .305 batting average is about right.

Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight model predicts there is, approximately, a 30% chance that Donald Trump will win the Presidency. Well… you know how it went down. Was Silver’s prediction wrong?

THE POLLS! BURN THE POLLS! YOU CAN’T TRUST THE NUMBERS!

Congratulations, hypothetical strawman – you suck at probability! Unfortunately, our italicized imaginary friend is not alone. Too many of us fail to understand that any good prediction is tied to a probability, and that any one outcome doesn’t necessarily make a prediction right or wrong. 

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