Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America–and How We Can Get More of It (Hardcover)

Christopher Barat writes on "The author of "Who Really Cares," the tome that turned popular stereotypes about charitable behavior on their heads, is back with more data regarding which groups in the American population report high levels of happiness. No doubt, most outside attention will focus on the very first chapter, wherein Brooks displays that conservatives have consistently been happier than liberals from the early 70s up until the present, but those who toss the book aside in disgust will miss some important insights. Some of the keys to happiness outlined by Brooks include practicing a religious faith, enjoying a happy married life, working at a job with meaning, and giving back to others through charity. A general theme that runs through all of these is that those who refuse to accept victimhood – and instead take steps towards gaining control over those parts of life that can be controlled – are bound to enjoy happy lives. Not a shocking conclusion in and of itself, but it does fly in the face of redistributionist theories that simply "shifting money around" to equalize income will make everyone feel better, not to mention emphases on the god of "self-esteem" (it’s always best to strengthen one’s own sense of self-worth, as opposed to relying on others to fill our tanks). Lest you think that this is just some partisan screed, Brooks also cautions us that those at both political extremes are among our happiest citizens – and, for that reason, their "tyrannical certainties" should be allowed as little control over our political process as possible. The book gets a little repetitive at times and lifts some of its insights directly from "Who Really Cares," but it’s a worthy companion piece to Brooks’ earlier volume."

Here’s his professor page.

Dennis Prager summarizes one finding of the book: "Marriage makes people happy, children not so much."

Conservatives who are married and go to a house of worship every week, 52% say they are very happy. Liberals? Fourteen percent say they’ve very happy.

Conservatives are twice as happy than liberals to say they are very happy, and far more optimistic about the future, less likely to feel like a failure and more likely to rate their mental health as excellent.

Half of the difference in happiness between conservatives and liberals is explained by lifestyle but the other half is because of the worldview.

Conservatives believe that hard work and perseverance can overcome disadvantage. They have a sunnier disposition about life. What’s the right unit for making social change? It’s me, the individual.

You can’t feel like a problem solver and a victim at the same time. Problem-solvers feel happier. When you concentrate on solving your problems, you have to turn off your victim mentality. When you dwell in your victim mentality, you can’t solve your problems. A big part of the liberal constituency is based on victimhood. If those people were to stop feeling like victims, that would end the Democrats coalition.

What makes for happiness is not easy money but creating value. Earned money makes for happiness.

Arthur C. Brooks writes:

Happiness Predictor 1: Faith

Roughly 85 percent of Americans identify with a religion, and about a third of Americans attend a house of worship every week or more. These statistics have changed relatively little over the decades. By international standards, America’s level of religious practice is exceptionally high. In Holland, for example, just 9 percent of the population attends church on a regular basis; in France, it’s 7 percent; in Latvia, 3 percent.

In general, religious Americans (those who attend a place of worship almost every week or more) are happier than those who rarely or never attend. In 2004 the General Social Survey found that 43 percent of religious folks said they were very happy with their lives, compared with 23 percent of secularists. Religious people were a third more likely than secularists to say they’re optimistic about the future. And secularists were nearly twice as likely as religious people to say "I’m inclined to feel I’m a failure."

The connection between faith and happiness holds regardless of one’s religion. All nonpartisan surveys on the subject have found that Christians (Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, and others) and Jews, as well as members of many other religious traditions, are far more likely than secularists to say they’re happy. It also doesn’t matter if we measure religious practice in ways other than attendance at worship services. In 2004, 36 percent of people who prayed every day said they were very happy, versus 21 percent of people who never prayed.

Of course, not every religious person is happy; neither is every secularist unhappy. Nonetheless, it’s clear that faith is a common value among happy Americans.

Happiness Predictor 2: Work

If you hit the lottery today, would you quit your job? If you’re like most Americans, you probably wouldn’t. When more than 1,000 people across the country were asked in 2002, "If you were to get enough money to live comfortably for the rest of your life, would you stop working?" fewer than a third of the respondents answered yes.

Contrary to widely held opinion, most Americans like or even love their work. In 2002 an amazing 89 percent of workers said they were very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their jobs. This isn’t true just for those with high-paying, highly skilled jobs but for all workers across the board. And the percentage is almost exactly the same among those with and without college degrees and among those working for private companies, nonprofit organizations, and the government.

For most Americans, job satisfaction is nearly equivalent to life satisfaction. Among those people who say they are very happy in their lives, 95 percent are also satisfied with their jobs. Furthermore, job satisfaction would seem to be causing overall happiness, not the other way around.

The bottom line here: If we want to be happy, we need to work. And that’s advice worth sharing with our kids as well.

Happiness Predictor 3: Marriage & Family

Matrimony has taken a lot of hits since the 1960s. It’s been said to hold many people, especially women, back from their full potential to be happy. Don’t believe it.

In 2004, 42 percent of married Americans said they were very happy. Just 23 percent of never-married people said this. The happiness numbers were even lower for other groups: Only 20 percent of those who were widowed, 17 percent of those who were divorced, and 11 percent of those who were separated but not divorced said they were happy. Overall, married people were six times more likely to say that they were very happy than to report that they were not too happy. And generally speaking, married women say they’re happy more often than married men.

Marriage isn’t just associated with happiness–it brings happiness, at least for a lot of us. One 2003 study that followed 24,000 people for more than a decade documented a significant increase in happiness after people married. For some, the happiness increase wore off in a few years, and they ended up back at their premarriage happiness levels. But for others, it lasted as long as a lifetime.

What about having kids? While children, on their own, don’t appear to raise the happiness level (they actually tend to slightly lower the happiness of a marriage), studies suggest that children are almost always part of an overall lifestyle of happiness, which is likely to include such things as marriage and religion. Consider this: While 50 percent of married people of faith who have children consider themselves to be very happy, only 17 percent of nonreligious, unmarried people without kids feel the same way.

Happiness Predictor 4: Charity

We’ve all heard that money doesn’t buy happiness, and that’s certainly true. But there is one way to get it: Give money away.

The evidence is clear that gifts to charitable organizations and other worthy causes bring substantial life satisfaction to the givers. If you want $50 in authentic happiness today, just donate it to a favorite charity.

People who give money to charity are 43 percent more likely than nongivers to say they’re very happy. Volunteers are 42 percent more likely to be very happy than nonvolunteers. It doesn’t matter whether the gifts of money go to churches or symphony orchestras; religious giving and secular giving leave people equally happy, and far happier than people who don’t give. Even donating blood, an especially personal kind of giving, improves our attitude.

In essence, the more people give, the happier they get.

Happiness Predictor 5: Freedom

The Founders listed liberty right up there with the pursuit of happiness as an objective that merited a struggle for our national independence. In fact, freedom and happiness are intimately related: People who consider themselves free are a lot happier than those who don’t. In 2000 the General Social Survey revealed that people who personally feel "completely free" or "very free" were twice as likely as those who don’t to say they’re very happy about their lives.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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