Sunday, June 20, 2004

The Price of Happiness

JIM HOLT, NY TIMES MAGAZINE - Sad people are nice. Angry people are nasty. And, oddly enough, happy people tend to be nasty, too. Such (allowing for a little journalistic caricature) were the findings reported in last month's issue of Psychological Science. Researchers found that angry people are more likely to make negative evaluations when judging members of other social groups. That, perhaps, will not come as a great surprise. But the same seems to be true of happy people, the researchers noted. The happier your mood, the more liable you are to make bigoted judgments -- like deciding that someone is guilty of a crime simply because he's a member of a minority group. Why? Nobody's sure. One interesting hypothesis, though, is that happy people have an ''everything is fine'' attitude that reduces the motivation for analytical thought. So they fall back on stereotypes -- including malicious ones. . .

As to the consequences of being happy, they are widely presumed to be positive. Happiness is held to lengthen life, buffer stress and make people more productive on the job. Some of these notions appear to be justified. A Dutch study in the 1980's, for example, found that a happy 70-year-old man can expect to live 20 months longer than his less happy counterpart. But an earlier American study found that children who are cheerful and optimistic end up having shorter life spans (perhaps because they take more risky chances).

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