OK-are you happy now?

Really, I had vowed to resist temptation. Yet, here I bite. Derek Bok, the former twice-over Harvard Prez, has come out with yet another book--The Politics of Happiness: What Government Can Learn from the New Research on Well-Being. Despite my knowing better, I'm gonna say something about "happiness research".

OK then, let's suppose I were to ask you: "Are you happy? " or "How happy are you?" or "Compared to two weeks ago, how happy are you now?"-how would you answer? Could or should I take your answer at face value? Be honest now!

So, and yet, unbelievable as it may seem, there is an entire literature of "economic psychology" (sic) devoted to the analysis of answers to questions like those-and an analysis that mostly accepts the answers at face value. To make the situation even more bizarre-get this!-this is done cross-culturally-translating "happy" from one language and one culture to another-as if the word had the same meaning across cultures !!! Holy goly! When a Hungarian says "boldog vagyok" does he mean what an American means when he says "I am happy"? When and Englishman says "I am happy" does he mean what an American means when he says the "same" words? Come on, come one, come all!

Derek Bok, for reasons beyond my ken, takes this goofy literature seriously and writes a book about public policy based on such unspeakably silly research.

Can you believe it?

OK-are you happy now?

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About the Author

Joseph Juhász

Joseph Juhász is an environmental psychologist who is professor of architecture and environmental design at the University of Colorado.

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