Thursday, December 04, 2014

Happiness is a Warm Congregation

The new Relationships in America study has a nifty table on the relation of happiness to regular involvement in a religious community.

The core finding:  "frequency of attendance at religious services has a stronger effect on overall happiness than either belonging to an organized religion or self-reported personal religiosity."

The magnitude of the effect is also pretty impressive:  nearly half of those who regularly attend religious services say they are very happy.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Softball vs Golf - A Metaphor for Liberal Happiness vs. Conservative Happiness

A thoughtful student in my "Introduction to Sociology" class was wrestling with Arthur Brooks' report, in Gross National Happiness, that conservatives are generally happier than liberals as individuals, in light of our class' question of what makes for a happy society

This student, herself inclined to be an apolitical conservative, drew from several aspects of what we had been studying to consider, and reconsider, her own experience.

Conservatives look at society and see a collection of individuals, so they believe that personal action is the right focus of attention.  Liberals look at society as more of a collective, so the community requires change in order for real progress to happen.  ... Conservatives could feel happier than liberals in this sense because success is based on an individual's own actions instead of basing it on the actions of everyone else.  It is easier to feel then that you have successfully made changes that are important to you.  An example I thought of when I was reading this was about golf.  I used to play softball, a team sport, then I started playing golf in high school.  I found a greater sense of satisfaction when playing golf because all of my success was based on how hard I was willing to work to achieve my goals.  In softball, I often felt let down and less happy because my team did not practice as much as I did, so we would often lose.  These losses left me feeling down because I was working hard, but by being on the team, I was relying on them for our success.  It was nice with golf because I was reliant on myself.
However, she notes, there are costs to a society that builds no more than individual successes.
I find problems with this as well because it is necessary to work together to achieve goals, and it brings up the Myth of the Individual from the middle of the term.  It showed that we needed a network of people to help support us, or we could face becoming isolated and radicalized in our ideas.  From personal experiences, successes with a group are much more profound ... as compared to personal victories because of the shared emotional experience.  It will be interesting to see how this plays into overall happiness.  I would think shared experiences like collective effervescences would help increase happiness overall because it helps to form bonds with others.  
Her last point, that happier societies come not just from happy individuals, but have bonds across larger groups from shared emotional experiences, is well borne out by sociology.