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EDITORIAL

If you're feeling happy, you must not be a Hoosier

Friday, August 8, 2014 - 12:01 am

But lower your expectations, and you might have a shot at it.

So, are you happy? No? Too bad. Just get on with your life and quit your whining, OK?

Indiana cities, alas, figure prominently on one of those dreadful lists social scientists and hack journalists keep themselves busy with. Three Indiana cities rank in the “bottom 10” of unhappy cities, according to researchers from Harvard University and the University of British Columbia. South Bend ranks third, Evansville comes in at No. 5, and Gary makes the cut at No. 9. Fort Wayne and Indianapolis are near the bottom, too, with Indianapolis scoring as the sixth most unhappy city with a population larger than 1 million.

And it gets worse. Hoosier rural areas also rank high on the unhappiness list, as do cities that border Indiana, such as Louisville and Cincinnati. Our misery must be catching.

However, in the “happiness isn’t everything” category, researcher Joshua Gottleib of British Columbia cautions that many people still choose to live in those unhappy areas. The findings appear to show that people seem to “trade off” happiness for other qualities they might value more, such as living close to family, ability to make a higher income or an area’s lower cost of living. So policymakers, he says, should not act as if happiness is an overriding objective. It’s just not a top priority for most people.

“People are capable of making these tradeoffs,” Gottlieb believes, “and we shouldn’t interfere with that. We should let them decide what’s important to them.”

Oh, and this just in: British scientists say that, yes, there is a formula for happiness, and they have found it. Happiness, apparently, depends not just on how well things are going but whether things are going “better than expected.” So to guarantee happiness, what we have to do is to lower our expectations to a point where it becomes likely an outcome will exceed them.

But we probably shouldn’t expend too much energy in lowering our expectations. The researchers say any happiness we do achieve is a “momentary emotional state.” We are reminded of the line spoken by Robert Duvall’s alcoholic, washed-up country singer in the film “Tender Mercies”: “I don’t trust happiness. I never did, and I never will.”

The bottom line, we guess, is this: Worry. Don’t be happy. Be a proud Hoosier with low expectations, but don’t go getting your hopes up, OK?