Friday, September 28, 2012

The Privileged Have a Greater Duty to Initiate Positive Reciprocity

Jonathan Haidt, in The Happiness Hypothesis, says that reciprocity is the currency of society. Giving and getting help bind our group together. Some of this reciprocity comes in direct tit-for-tat,  contract-like exchanges.  More comes from longer term gift exchanges - I give a gift to you or the group now, you give a gift to me or the group later. 

Economists and others who emphasize self-interested choices as the measure of rational action note that it is hard to explain why anyone would initiate a cycle of reciprocal trust and gift giving - even though all can see the benefits of being in such a social group.

As part of our "Happy Society" class, I assigned students to perform random acts of kindness for other people each day for a time, recording and reflecting on the results.  All students found the assignment interesting and nearly all reported that it increased their happiness (as happiness research predicts).

I have been thinking about a hidden element of this assignment: it was easy for my students, and me, to initiate a beneficial cycle of gift giving because we are privileged relative to nearly everyone else we interact with. 

This leads me to a general insight: the privileged risk less by giving the gift of trust and service.  Therefore, it is more incumbent on the privileged to take that risk and start the virtuous cycle of reciprocity.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Which Candidate Do Small Business Owners Think Would Be Better?

What do actual job creators (not just rich people) think about the presidential candidates?

George Washington University and survey small business owners and entrepreneurs, who create 2/3rds of new jobs in the average year.  They were asked which candidate is most supportive of small business.  The results:

39% President Obama
31% Governor Romney
28% Not sure

This result is particularly interesting, since small business owners have traditionally been one of the most conservative and Republican constituencies.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Moving Out of a Poor Neighborhood Makes You Happier Like a $13,000 Raise

In the 1990s a major experiment was done to improve the lives of some of the poorest city people.  They were given subsidies to move out of the slums of concentrated poverty into neighborhoods that were a little better off and better mixed economically.  The policy makers hoped that the people who moved would get more education and better jobs.

They didn't.

What they did get, though, was much happier.  Moving their families to safer, less stressful neighborhoods increased their happiness the equivalent of a $13,000 raise.

A parallel experiment that moved poor non-white people into equally poor white neighborhoods had no such positive effect.

This report does not tell what happened to the children of these relocated families.  My guess is that they grew up safer, with better chances, and happier.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Baby Boom Among Women Ph.D.s

A decade ago, one third of women Ph.D.s past 40 were childless.

Today that fraction has dropped to a quarter.

(Thank you Pew Center for another nifty study.)

In my own little faculty at Centre College, six female colleagues have had babies in the past three years.  One was born yesterday.  Her birth announcement was the first I had seen with a full account of the classical derivation of her name, with footnotes and web links.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Why Religious Belongers Are Happier

I am teaching a Sunday School class on "Happiness and Faith."  Reviewing the research on this subject, I have come to this partial insight.

Happiness comes more from the process of doing something worthwhile with other people we care about than it does from any specific outcome of that process.  This is a common finding of happiness research.

Religious people are, on the whole, happier, than non-religious people.  This is also a standard finding of happiness research.

Happiness correlates more with religious belonging than with believing - that is, people who are active in religious communities report higher happiness, whereas people with strong religious beliefs who are not part of religious communities do not report higher levels of happiness.

I believe what religious institutions do that adds to happiness is to give structure and permanence to the process of doing good things together with other people.  One-off group projects are good, and an interest in civic betterment can produce such projects.  But for sheer persistence and long-term effect, nothing can compete with religious institutions for getting a group of people to work together for the common good week after week, year after year, decade after decade.