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The Happiest Man in America
March 9, 2011 6:45 AM   Subscribe

The New York Times asked Gallup to come up with a statistical composite for the happiest person in America, based on the characteristics that most closely correlated with happiness in 2010. Men, for example, tend to be happier than women, older people are happier than middle-aged people, and so on. Gallup’s answer: he’s 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. And here he is. (single link NYT-filter)
posted by ricochet biscuit (77 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
...that's it? That was a very short article indeed.

I can make a synopsis of the article for you after the summary:

We called him to make a human interest story. He said you have to laugh at life and assumed the call was a practial joke.

Fin.
posted by jaduncan at 6:51 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


He was too busy being happy to talk to the NYT.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:53 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Man, those tall, Asian-American, observant Jews who are at least 65 and married, have children, live in Hawaii, run their own businesses and have a household income of more than $120,000 a year are all the same.
posted by philip-random at 6:56 AM on March 9, 2011 [17 favorites]


I think that's kind of awesome.
posted by Miko at 6:59 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


He said you have to laugh at life and assumed the call was a practial joke.

Oh, I've been laughing at The New York Times for a while now.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:01 AM on March 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


By the criterion laid out I get a score of 3 out of 10.

So, I guess am 30% as happy as the happiest man.
posted by oddman at 7:02 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now they should track down the divorcing, middle-aged Hispanic woman. Then force the mirth man and misery maiden to breed a future race of superaveragemen. They will conquer the world using only their well-balanced temperaments.
posted by dgaicun at 7:03 AM on March 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


Interesting article with a fun premise, but on reflection there were no huge surprises.

Well actually, I was a bit surprised that younger years and retirement years are both happier than roughly age 35-60. It makes sense, but it's also sort of depressing. I hope my 40s aren't brutal and barren of joy.
posted by Nixy at 7:04 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Interesting that age makes you happier. Most people assume the opposite.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 7:04 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of this book: The Average American. It lays out all the statistical work that the author did to find the perfect representative of American averageness--who ended up living in my town. Gotta love it.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:05 AM on March 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


SNL did a man-on-the-street interview sketch when Brad Hall was doing the news and New York had a really high crime rate in the 80s. "Every 30 seconds, a man is mugged in New York. We found that man." Cue Brad interviewing Jim Belushi, complaining about how it's hard to take a shower, or have dinner, and he can't remember the last time he had sex with his wife. In the course of the interview he's mugged three times.
posted by fatbird at 7:06 AM on March 9, 2011 [11 favorites]


he’s 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.

Oh sure, he's happy -- but their parents? Feh. All the way over on Hawaii he as to live? America's not good enough for him? We never see the grandkids, he doesn't write, he can't pick up a phone and call, with the long distance?

And only $120,000 a year? His brother is a doctor, clears $500,000 easy, drives a big expensive car...but no, Mr. Hawaii had to open that bigshot import/export business with the ugly wood masks and the drums. Who needs those things?
posted by PlusDistance at 7:06 AM on March 9, 2011 [26 favorites]


I was a bit surprised that younger years and retirement years are both happier than roughly age 35-60. It makes sense, but it's also sort of depressing.

The Economist ran an interesting article on this not too long ago. This phernomenon actually seems to be pretty universal across cultures; the only variation is at what age the nadir occurs.
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:06 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


"a statistical composite ... And here he is"

This is a complete statistics fail though, isn't it?
posted by Jahaza at 7:08 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


But can he produce his birth certificate?
posted by chavenet at 7:12 AM on March 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Ok... Tall... check.

Dammit.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:12 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is a complete statistics fail though, isn't it?

Well, it proves that what is statistically unlikely (tall, asian, jew) is still nonetheless possible.

He might be alone in his happiness, but still. That's nothing to be sad about.
posted by three blind mice at 7:15 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was a bit surprised that younger years and retirement years are both happier than roughly age 35-60. It makes sense, but it's also sort of depressing.

Interesting that it's pretty much the age when one is most under the impression that they're in control of their own destiny: no longer a kid in need of adult supervision, not living in any realistic fear of imminent death and decay
posted by philip-random at 7:17 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was a bit surprised that younger years and retirement years are both happier than roughly age 35-60

raising kids is stressful.
posted by gaspode at 7:18 AM on March 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


The Economist ran an interesting article on this not too long ago. This phernomenon actually seems to be pretty universal across cultures; the only variation is at what age the nadir occurs.

Interesting. "The U-Bend of life" indeed. Although, according to that article, I have another factor to look out for- I'm definitely more neurotic (correlates with unhappiness) than extroverted (correlates with happiness)!
posted by Nixy at 7:18 AM on March 9, 2011


Obligatory.
posted by SPUTNIK at 7:19 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I totally love this.

Also, it can't hurt his happiness quotient that Trudy Schandler-Wong is a bit of a dish. Actually, has any research been done on whether having a good looking spouse makes you happier?
posted by DarlingBri at 7:19 AM on March 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


I am glad that the New York Times still considers 5'10" tall. Seems like the older I get the shorter I get relative to everyone else.
posted by ChrisHartley at 7:20 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


This reminds me of this book: The Average American. It lays out all the statistical work that the author did to find the perfect representative of American averageness--who ended up living in my town.

*cocks eyebrow* That's....my hometown too. Huh.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:20 AM on March 9, 2011


I am glad that the New York Times still considers 5'10" tall. Seems like the older I get the shorter I get relative to everyone else.

Just today I asked an aquantaince how tall he was and he replied "6 foot, about average. You know, for a guy."
posted by Nixy at 7:21 AM on March 9, 2011


he’s a tall, Asian-American, observant Jew

I bet I can guess what he's doing for Christmas.
posted by gimonca at 7:26 AM on March 9, 2011 [24 favorites]


has any research been done on whether having a good looking spouse makes you happier?

Maybe being happier helps you get a good looking spouse?

(Correlation ≠ Causation)
posted by chavenet at 7:28 AM on March 9, 2011


I feel like this is a piece that Gene Weingarten should have written.
posted by empath at 7:31 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Unless we're talking about correlating things, then correlation causes the "correlation != causation" quip :P
posted by symbioid at 7:31 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, by those standards, I am likely one of the least happiest people in America. Female, short, atheist/non-observant pagan, under-employed, graduate student in the humanities, and white. Great.
posted by strixus at 7:34 AM on March 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'd like to see what a short Black terminally-ill poor barren 50-year-old Midwestern widow thinks about "laughing at yourself."
posted by etc. at 7:37 AM on March 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


The average man is 5'9" apparently; which surprised me. A friend of mine has a theory that, since height was once a big advantage in getting across with the lady cave-people, men evolved to notice the height of taller men. The height of shorter men wouldn't have been a threat, so it's just filed as "shorter".

My friend isn't a scientist; just a guy with a lot of theories.
posted by steambadger at 7:40 AM on March 9, 2011


The New York Times gets one step close to The Onion.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 7:44 AM on March 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


I wish they'd specify how much happier men, for instance, are supposed to be than women. I remember seeing a different, recent study that said women are happier than men. My guess is that the difference is fairly insignificant, so you'll get studies going both ways, and the news can present any reality they want.
posted by John Cohen at 7:45 AM on March 9, 2011


Living in Honolulu, owning your own business, making $120k/year? What's not to be happy?
posted by blucevalo at 7:48 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm sick of Giant-Asian-Jew Fliter!
posted by Mister_A at 7:49 AM on March 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


I can't even type owing to the apoplexy. Anyway, isn't $120,000 more or less minimum wage in Hawaii?
posted by Mister_A at 7:49 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


So...other than the children, he's nothing like me?
posted by Thorzdad at 7:50 AM on March 9, 2011


I'm unhappy about the fact that the NYT doesn't understand the difference between "happiest" and "most likely to be happy". By their logic my grandmother, who was born in 1888, is the deadest person in America.

She is pretty dead, though.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:58 AM on March 9, 2011 [10 favorites]


"6 foot, about average. You know, for a guy."

When I tell people my height, they often say "impossible, I'm 6', and you are way taller than me." I think that happens because they are really 5'10", and my honost reporting of height puts a lie to their exaggeration.

Also, I think people are still getting a little taller one generation to the next.
posted by Chuckles at 8:00 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


etc.: "I'd like to see what a short Black terminally-ill poor barren 50-year-old Midwestern widow thinks about "laughing at yourself.""

I get where you're coming from, but the dude quoted in the article didn't write the thing, he just got a random phone call from a reporter at the Times, and he said a thing.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:06 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let's see. I'm 6', 6'1" or so, which is evidently tall enough; my senile grandmother long claimed that we were part Japanese (in fact, her first husband just lived in—wait for it—Hawaii for a time and spoke Japanese, but whatever); my other grandmother (paternal, but it's something to work with) was of Jewish extraction, though nonobservant (the other, senile grandmother, who had lingering pro-Hitler sentiments and is now mercifully quite non-living, was never made aware of this fact).

It would seem that it all went wrong when I elected to be an atheist with no discernible income living in Frozen Hellhole, Manitoba. Go figure. But I'm only 26, so at least there's time. I can totally do this.

Aloha, sayonara, how's the weather down there? and shalom. The income bit's going to take some work.
posted by wreckingball at 8:10 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The short Black terminally-ill poor barren 50-year-old Midwestern widow may not appreciate the advice about "laughing at yourself," but that does not make it bad advice.
posted by Roger Dodger at 8:17 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Chuckles, I've noticed the same thing. I'm a legit 6', maybe a quarter inch higher. Almost everyone that I've met who's 5'10" has rounded themselves up to 6.
posted by Crash at 8:20 AM on March 9, 2011


Considering the incredible rise in house prices during their lifetime, pensions, and retirement health insurance, and well-funded social security, it is no wonder that the older generation is happy.

I predict that this happiness will reverse in 10 to 20 years because today's middle age generation will have none of these things when they retire.
posted by eye of newt at 8:30 AM on March 9, 2011


But can he produce his birth certificate?

I heard he only claims to be Jewish, too.
posted by jaduncan at 8:38 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The short Black terminally-ill poor barren 50-year-old Midwestern widow may not appreciate the advice about "laughing at yourself," but that does not make it bad advice.

She also might laugh at herself. We do what we can to make our lives livable.
posted by liketitanic at 8:38 AM on March 9, 2011


I would have guessed it was a rich white guy with an ever-changing harem of babes.
Or, in other words, Charlie Sheen.
posted by rocket88 at 8:41 AM on March 9, 2011


philip-random: nteresting that it's pretty much the age when one is most under the impression that they're in control of their own destiny: no longer a kid in need of adult supervision, not living in any realistic fear of imminent death and decay

I would put it almost the opposite way: this is the period of life when you become most painfully aware of your responsibilities and limitations, as you're raising your family, paying for your home, trying to save for retirement, and becoming aware that your body is aging and you are mortal.

By the time you get older, presumably you have a better statistical probability of having dealt with those issues. When you're younger you think you're immortal and see responsibility as someone else's problems.
posted by lodurr at 8:44 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


They will conquer the world using only their well-balanced temperaments.

"If I don't survive, tell my wife...hello."
posted by MrBadExample at 8:56 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


“my life philosophy is, if you can’t laugh at yourself, life is going to be pretty terrible for you.”

Happy and wise, too. Lucky guy.
posted by doctor_negative at 8:58 AM on March 9, 2011


I'm a legit 6', maybe a quarter inch higher. Almost everyone that I've met who's 5'10" has rounded themselves up to 6.

As a 5'10" woman, I can tell you that 6' is not the average height for men in America.
posted by you're a kitty! at 9:07 AM on March 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is a complete statistics fail though, isn't it?

Only if they found a person who met the criteria and found that he was miserable and suicidal would this be a statistics fail.
posted by Billiken at 9:08 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Chuckles - When I tell people my height, they often say "impossible, I'm 6', and you are way taller than me." I think that happens because they are really 5'10", and my honost reporting of height puts a lie to their exaggeration.

I get the same thing: I'm somewhere between 5'11 and 6' depending when and by whom I'm measured, and slightly shorter guys occasionally tell me that I must be 6'1" or 6'2" because they're 6', damnit.

OKCupid did a relevant bit of analysis, comparing the self-reported heights of their members against the measured heights of the general populstion, here.

They conclude that: Almost universally guys like to add a couple inches. You can also see a more subtle vanity at work: starting at roughly 5' 8", the top of the dotted curve tilts even further rightward. This means that guys as they get closer to six feet round up a bit more than usual, stretching for that coveted psychological benchmark.

Their reasoning isn't totally iron-clad, of course. For example, OKCupid's user base may be from wealthier backgrounds (good health and nutrition in childhood make you taller), and/or have a higher proportion of members from a tallish ethnic group than the general population. It rings true to me, though.

As a side note, the mean height of a guy in the UK is about 5'10" but, when surveyed, most guys say they think that the actual figure is closer to 6". The heights for women are 5"3 and 5'4" in Wales and England, respectively, but I don't know what they think it is.
posted by metaBugs at 9:13 AM on March 9, 2011


From looking at that chart with the article, it looks more like they've found the least sad person than the happiest person, since, for example, women report being a little happier and a lot sadder than men, and Asians aren't quite as happy as Hispanics but are a lot less sad.

That is, assuming those surveys have any relevance to actual happiness, which is debatable. At least it was cool that they found a guy who fit their profile.
posted by Copronymus at 9:32 AM on March 9, 2011


he’s a tall, Asian-American, observant Jew.
I bet I can guess what he's doing for Christmas.


Playing basketball?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:38 AM on March 9, 2011


When you're tall you have less tendency to add height, I think.

I was showing an electrician around at the office a while back, and he cautioned me to watch my head under some ducts. "You must be tall," he said. "I'm over 6 feet tall, and I wouldn't hit those."

I'm 6'1" first thing in the morning and was wearing slippers. This guy's head fell a good 2" short of the ductwork and he was wearing boots.

There's also often fewer people in the middle of a statistical spread. I haven't thought about it w.r.t. height but I have good reason to suppose it's true of penis size. In actual practice, having a statistically-average-sized penis is not usually a problem for a guy.
posted by lodurr at 9:51 AM on March 9, 2011


... also, I once met this woman through an online service who said "you're taller than I expected." I think I said 'Ok' and then probably 'I'm not that tall', and she replied "Oh, well, I assumed you were lying about your height. Most men do."
posted by lodurr at 9:54 AM on March 9, 2011


Re the height thing: I just happen to be a 5'4" woman (average shoe size, too) who has dated 5'9" and 5'10" men only, (GO TEAM AVERAGE AMIRITE) and it seems to me that lying about your height, as a man, is pointless. I can definitely recall what it feels to stand like next to a guy who's precisely half a foot taller than I am, versus one more than that. Admittedly, it gets a little fuzzy the more I have to crane my neck, but it's not like women are just completely unable to gauge, assuming they've been around men at all. The whole thing is really kind of funny.
posted by Nixy at 10:07 AM on March 9, 2011


Re height: Mr. dlugoczaj always claimed he was "average" at 5'8"; I thought he was on the short side. Genuine exchange:

Me: My father always said he was average.
Mr. D: Your father's SHORT.
Me: My father is 5'8", just like you and me.
Mr. D: [silence]

Men may not lie about their height, but they might lie about being average.
posted by dlugoczaj at 10:12 AM on March 9, 2011


Oh that poor intern who had to call random synagogues in Hawaii and ask if they happened to have in stock any any tall, Asian-American, observant Jews who are over 65, married with children, living in Hawaii, who runs his own business and makes over $120,000 a year. Now that's an awkward phone call to repeatedly make...
posted by zachlipton at 10:33 AM on March 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


my brother is 6'7"*, his wife is 5'4. People used to give him a hard time for marrying a "short" woman, and he'd say "a tall woman would be almost a foot shorter than me, what do you want!?"

--
*He is one-third of the reason (other two-thirds being our father and other brother) I always thought of myself as being average height.
posted by lodurr at 10:42 AM on March 9, 2011


Metafilter: The mean, median, and mode are not you.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:07 AM on March 9, 2011


What's far more interesting than the "happiest man in America" article is the interactive map of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index that it accompanies, showing the happiness quotient (or some such) for the entire country according to congressional districts (for some odd reason). You can also look at contributing factors such as job satisfaction, diabetes rates and dentist visits.
posted by me3dia at 11:07 AM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


The most interesting thing about that map is that there is a strong correlation to the population answering "Yes" to the question "Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday" and being liberal. The fact that the map is tied to congressional districts really makes this effect stand out.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:30 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Men lie about height in online dating profiles a lot. For me, it's bizarrre! It's an instant turn-off because it sort of assumes I'm not going to notice if we meet up. You've decided to round up? Round up your height? You can't do that, it's not like the fantasy 5 lbs you plan to lose (and could possibly happen between first email contact and the cocktail). Makes me question ... everything about you.

Anyway, I've derailed. I really came to say -- they are a great looking couple!
posted by thinkpiece at 11:48 AM on March 9, 2011


He won't be as happy when he finds out I'm fucking his daughter.
posted by longbaugh at 12:01 PM on March 9, 2011


He won't be as happy when he finds out I'm fucking his daughter.

I think you made everyone sad.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:21 PM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of the "Lincoln's dog story".

The movie business is a non-stop spectacle of the silly, and there are tons of sayings describing the various foibles. Executives are known for trying to brainstorm film ideas in meetings, and being executives they go about it in typical executive ways. The most common pattern is to pick whatever will seem to hit most demographics and be most fail-proof. So the story goes that a bunch of execs around a table were brainstorming along the lines of "well, people love Lincoln; people also love pets and movies about dogs are very successful; how about a film about Lincoln's dog?". And that's how writers tend to describe certain kinds of meetings with execs. "So how did the pitch go?" "Oh, it devolved into Lincoln's dog".

This story seems the equivalent. The happiest dog in the world must have been Lincoln's dog, no?
posted by VikingSword at 12:39 PM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Re. 'lincoln's dog': isn't that also where 'snakes on a plane' comes from?
posted by lodurr at 1:16 PM on March 9, 2011


stoneweaver : "The most interesting thing about that map is that there is a strong correlation to the population answering "Yes" to the question "Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday" and being liberal. The fact that the map is tied to congressional districts really makes this effect stand out."

And interesting where the population tends to be liberal is where it tends to be urban. The two highest scoring areas in my current state are Charlotte and Raleigh. It's interesting how that compares to America's general frontier mentality that people are happier in undeveloped or agrarian spaces.
posted by Slothrop at 1:51 PM on March 9, 2011


Indeed, Slothrop. I've been returning to the map in fascination all day. The breakdown between liberal and conservative districts extends over nearly every metric, and generally not in favor of the rural areas. (There are a few where this breaks down, but it's interesting nonetheless.) I was also struck by just how overwhelmingly stressed Utah is.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:00 PM on March 9, 2011



Interesting that age makes you happier. Most people assume the opposite.

I'm 73 and never been happier in my life.

Except when I spend too much time reading mefi links. That can be totally depressing.
posted by notreally at 2:24 PM on March 9, 2011


Some people lie about their height. I lie about my width.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:17 PM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's Alvin Wong's world; we're just living in it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:50 PM on March 9, 2011


I'm pretty sure that young people are getting taller, since I keep finding women's jeans with inseams of 34" or 36". Women's jeans. I come across these inseams all the time. Only Gap still routinely produces jeans with inseams of 30". I am 5'1" for the record and open-minded about short men.
posted by bad grammar at 4:08 PM on March 9, 2011


I keep finding women's jeans with inseams of 34" or 36". Women's jeans.

That's not about physical height increasing, it's about high heels. In the last decade we've seen the emphatic return of stilettos, high-heeled pumps, and especially stacked boots. When you have a 2" - 4" heel, you need to compensate with a longer inseam so the hem still grazes the top of your foot, giving the look that is de rigeur.

I found this out by asking, because it frustrates the hell out of me - I don't wear many high heels, and I'm 5'6", and I find that I usually need to get OTR pants hemmed for me these days - something I never had to do as an adult before the oughts. The assumption, especially in misses' and career wear, is that you've jacked yourself up a couple inches.
posted by Miko at 6:06 AM on March 10, 2011


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