Sunday, January 06, 2008

Happy or stupid?

If you want to see politically skewed research look no further than the University of Leicester. According to a report in the health section of BBC News online Adrian White, an analytic social psychologist at the university, created the first worldwide map of happiness. Maybe Adrian was somewhat biased on account of his surname, because his map suggests that white people are the happiest of all and Denmark is, in the words of the BBC, "the happiest place on earth".

Of course, his research only measures "subjective happiness", and maybe the non-white population of the globe just don't know how happy they are. White's map uses colour coding with dark red being the most happy and bright yellow the least. North America, Europe and Australia are all red in colour, parts of Asia are orange, whilst Russia (ok, so there are some unhappy white people) and Africa are mainly yellow.

Anybody watching television might have noticed that the people of America, Europe and Australia often look dull in spite of their affluence, whilst the people of Asia and Africa often manage to smile in spite of their poverty. Their smiles, songs and conviviality, however, must be fake. According to White a nation's happiness was most closely associated with health levels, followed by prosperity and education. And then, according to the BBC, he himself expressed surprise that Asian countries like China, Japan, India did so poorly, because these were countries with a strong sense of collective identity identified with well-being by other researchers. He notes that many of the largest countries in terms of population do quite badly, and concludes that "the frustrations of modern life, and the anxieties of the age, seem to be much less significant compared to the health, financial and educational needs in other parts of the world".

Well, the saddest thing about his research is that on his map, which is available online as a pdf file, he couldn't even spell the name of his university right. Hopefully this will be corrected after any of his colleagues read this post, but at the moment it reads "Leiceter" without the "s". So much for alleged high levels of education in the happier parts of the world!

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