OPINION: Scientists put Southerners at top of happiness scale

Maybe it’s the mudbugs. …..Louisianans, a study concludes, are the happiest people in America.
And this was no rinky-dink study.
It was undertaken by the University of Warwick in England and Hamilton College, a small, highly selective school in upstate New York. Its lead authors were Andrew Oswald of Warwick and Stephen Wu of Hamilton. It was published in Science this month, based on a sample involving 1.3 million people.
Mississippi was also high on the happiness scale, by the way. The Magnolia State was sixth. Lots of us eat mudbugs, too, you know.
And four more states in the South were in the top 10, including Florida (third), Tennessee (fourth), South Carolina (eighth) and Alabama (ninth).
Hawaii was second. Hula dancers probably had something to do with that.
Arizona was fifth. Must be all the former Rust Belt residents who joyously retired there.
Montana was seventh. Big skies, open spaces. They live so far from their neighbors that even if they weren’t happy, no one would know.
Maine was 10th. They dine on clarified butter and lobsters, which, it should be noted, are just pre-salted mudbugs on steroids.
Scientists being scientists, the study had to do more than survey people.
After all, when a person is asked if he is happy and he says “yes,” that’s merely his opinion.
Real science (attention Al Gore) requires what’s called empirical data, also known as objective proof.
So Oswald and Wu cross-referenced the survey-based information with a previous index prepared by UCLA that ranked variables that should produce happy people.
The variables were, well, variable. They included the amounts of land and water reserved for public use, the number of hazardous waste sites, commuting time, the level of violent crime, air quality, teacher-student ratios, local tax rates and cost-of-living data. On their scale, some conditions would tend to make people happy. Others would tend to make people less happy.
To complete their work, Oswald and Wu measured what people said about their own happiness against the predictive variables. Lots of high math. Pretty solid stuff.
“The beauty of this statistical method is that we are able to look below the surface of American life – to identify deep patterns in people’s underlying life satisfaction and happiness,” Oswald said.
Now those of us who live in Mississippi and who have always thought of New Yorkers as neurotics have some proof. That state was 50th.
And those of us who live in Mississippi and who have always thought there was something wrong with annual studies showing this to be the worst place in America to raise a child have a bit of affirmation. Maybe we aren’t dooming our young people to a lesser quality of life because we didn’t move to California, which finished 46th.
This is normally a political column and the U.S. Senate has been big in the news, so toss this in: Of the 20 senators from the 10 happiest states, 14 are Republicans and six are Democrats. From the 10 least-happy states, 17 of the senators are Democrats, one is an independent who votes with Democrats and only two are Republicans. Happy people elect Republicans? Dour malcontents elect Democrats? Rush Limbaugh could fill a three-hour show with that factoid alone.
Anyway, as happens with all studies – regardless of where they land on the scientific to rinky-dink scale – people who agree with the results will call this one accurate and people who don’t will call it nonsense.
The good people of Louisiana and Mississippi – so accustomed to being first only among the worst – will, however, receive this information as validation. We don’t have as much money as people in other states, our schools struggle merely to be average and we weigh too much, smoke too much and probably drink too much, too. But we have an inner contentment and the capacity to deal with what life hands us.
People from the other states will reject the study. They’ll say we’re just too dumb to know we should be miserable.
Either way, finishing at the top of a happiness index is a good way to end one year and an excellent way to begin the next one, which is sure to bring as many or more challenges to our collective demeanor.
“Contentment is natural wealth; luxury is artificial poverty.”
Socrates said that, and he was no slouch.
Don’t know if he ate mudbugs.
Charlie Mitchell is executive editor of The Vicksburg Post. Write to him at Box 821668, Vicksburg, MS 39182, or e-mail cmitchell@vicksburgpost.com.

Charlie Mitchell