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Alain Giguère

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Happiness and the sexes

Categories: Food for thought

Posted on 09-27-13 at 10:23 a.m.

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Like Life and Liberty, the Pursuit of Happiness is an "unalienable right" that the United States Declaration of Independence says all human beings have been given by their Creator and for the protection of which they institute governments. That can seem abstract, but it has a very practical application, to wit:


Happiness and life cycle

Researchers have discovered a U-shape in the human happiness graph over the course of the life cycle, with reported satisfaction declining roughly from the mid-20s to the 50s before increasing again into the later "golden" years (mid-60s). This may seem counterintuitive - but is deeply, inextricably linked to expectation and experience. Younger people tend to be overly optimistic. Nobody believes he'll be the one to experience the messy divorce, the health problem, the foiled or dissatisfying career. Instead, life gets in the ring, knocks you around and puts happiness on the ropes, until expectations are tempered and seasoned by experience in later years.


Recipe for happiness

But the lingering questions are: Who are the happy people? What do they do? What is their trick? Is it innate or acquired?


Beyond the life cycle, we know that happy people (those who self-proclaim to register 5/5 on the Happiness scale: roughly 20% of the Canadian population) have some mental postures in common. For instance, they value life's simple pleasures, and ritual. It is crucial to understand rituals from a branding perspective. Happy people have rituals. Unhappy people are instead mired in routines that they periodically need to escape.


The importance of ritual

There is a profound difference between ritual and routine: Ritual brings deeper meaning to both significant and everyday acts. When moving from sleep to activity, most of us enjoy a simple, almost universal morning ritual - making coffee. Reflect, for a moment, on all the steps involved in that process, and the sensorial aspect of it. How dearly would you miss it if it changed... or disappeared?


Think about your weekend newspaper, the promising bulk of it, implying all the luxurious time you'll have to read it on your day off. Or opening a bottle of wine: the whole ritual of unwrapping the foil and inserting the corkscrew, feeling that tension and then hearing the satisfying plonk of the cork. It's so not the same with a screw top. Routine? Routine removes meaning and implies a mindset in which everything is a chore and nothing offers possibility.


Meanwhile, happy people also tend to love a challenge, and have the energy to address it. They have a sense of being rooted in a community and of being connected to others.


Is happiness the same for men and women

But let's make it more interesting: Is what's true for men also true for women?


Happy women, in fact, are more conservative than their female counterparts. They are leery of families that do not consist of a father and a mother. Religion holds a more important place in their lives, and they often put moral duty before happiness. Happy women are those who feel the frame of their life is firm, even rigid.


Meanwhile, the happy man is more epicurean. He is romantic and attuned to his senses. He is uninterested in spiritual questioning and declares that he is very open to new models of the family. For him, happiness means pleasure coming before duty. Happy men are men who indulge themselves and go with the flow.


To circle back to the United States Declaration of Independence, Liberty and Happiness seem to come together for men, but not for women.


Hey folks - we're just reading the stats here, so please: no hate mail.