Sunday, June 3, 2012

99. Happiness

Okay, so C.W. shows up in the following form as I was relaxing with a beer. He is a middle-aged man of slight stature, flattop haircut, a short-sleeved white dress shirt, a thin necktie, and plastic pocket protector full of pens and pencils of all shapes and colors. He is holding a clipboard and smiling at me through thick plastic glasses.

“Let me guess,” I said. “Engineer.”

“Wrong,” he said. “Social scientist.”

“I thought so,” I said, practicing the cold-reading technique I learned from TV psychics. “So what’s up? I have the feeling something is on your mind.”

Just a little research,” he said. “Let me ask, are you happy?”

I considered it. “Almost always, I think.”

“How about your wife?”

I thought again. “As long as she doesn’t run out of pets.”

“Most of the people you know?”

This one took a little longer. “Well,” I said. “I don’t think most of them are too unhappy.”

“I have produced a significant corpse of research on the topic,” he said.

“A body of research on happiness?”

“Precisely. Want to hear some of my findings?”

“Of course.”

“Well, there are correlations, you understand, but that doesn’t imply causality.”

“Yes,” I said. “One of the few things I remember from graduate school.”

“Except in these cases, I suspect.” He flipped some pages on his clipboard, studied one and looked up. “Bicycles.”


“Yes, mixed results. A cheap, slow, heavy one with wide tires, lots of metal attachments, and streamers from the handlebars is correlated with great joy and happiness.”


“The more expensive the bike becomes, and the narrower the tires, the more angry and antisocial the rider until their face becomes, how do you say in the south?” He paused, “All squinched up?”

“That sounds fairly accurate.”

“Health foods, now that one I am pretty sure about. High correlation with an angry outlook on life.”

“Are you sure?”

“I think so.” He consulted his clipboard again. “I would like to find some evidence for the null hypothesis but I haven’t been able to find a health food addict who is capable of smiling.”

I couldn’t think of one either.

“Want to know about religion?” he asked.


“Another topic with mixed results. Members of the so-called ‘mainstream’ congregations seem to be fairly happy. The more fundamental the sect, the angrier the followers become until ….”

“Until?” I asked.

“Oh, until they start kissing rattlesnakes, planning the incarceration of other sects, or threatening to execute people who don’t do the sex thing the same way they do.”

Even an expensive bicycle can bring happiness,
perhaps, though, not to the rider. - C.W.

“The sex thing?”

“On the positive side,” he said quickly. “Want to know some topics with a high correlation with happiness?”

“Very much so,” I said.

“The top five are banjo playing, beer, junk food, dancing the polka, and chocolate.”

He handed me the list and I studied it. “But some of these are not conducive to popularity or to a long life,” I said.

“There you go again,” he said. “Why would a member of your species want to live forever with his face all squinched up?”

I opened another beer.

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