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Today is pursuit of happiness day

Based on a survey of Americans based on “their emotional status, work satisfaction, eating habits, illnesses, stress levels and other indicators of their quality of life,” Gallup drew up a composite profile of what the happiest man in America would look like. Apparently he is a “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.” After a few phone calls the New York Times found Alvin Wong, a “a 5-foot-10, 69-year-old, Chinese-American, Kosher-observing Jew, who’s married with children and lives in Honolulu. He runs his own health care management business and earns more than $120,000 a year.” And he sounded pretty happy.

Measuring happiness isn’t as silly as it sounds and in fact has received some serious scholarship behind it. The concept of happiness on a national level, first initiated by Bhutan in 1972 with a “Gross National Happiness,” has become an ambitious measuring stick for which leaders, politicians and academics have started attempting to define and gauge progress, growth and goals. Bold-faced names involved in this project include French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz, the Columbia economist Jeffrey D. Sachs and others. Today the UN implemented “Resolution 65/309″ target=blank” which was adopted unanimously by the General Assembly last year, and now officially places “happiness” on its agenda, which states:

“[c]onscious that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal” and “recognizing that the gross domestic product [...] does not adequately reflect the happiness and well-being of people,” Resolution 65/309 empowers the Kingdom of Bhutan to convene a high-level meeting on happiness as part of next week’s 66th session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

Shifting from a macro concept of happiness to a micro one, there was a study that came out a couple years ago from Princeton University which found that a person’s happiness is capped at an annual income of $75,000. Sure, someone making more than this has more purchasing power, but above this $75,000 threshold, this study found no greater degree of happiness obtained. I would like to volunteer myself as a lab rat making 1 million dollars a year so researchers can gauge my level of happiness.

While so much of what happiness is seems to be tied to economics, Alfred Hitchcock is asked in this old interview what his definition of happiness is and his response takes a different approach than the ones mentioned above:

I hear what you’re saying Mr. Hitchcock, but I’m also pretty sure winning the Mega Millions lottery would have made me pretty darn happy.

[Image by Carl Richards]