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View the documentJoy again

ABC's "happiness special" quoted researchers as saying that the Amish score consistently high on tests (or self-tests, such as choosing a smiley face). I mentioned this in TCC 6.28, citing religion and a community of joyful friends as likely causes. David Coombs points out that the strong genetic component of happiness -- about 50% in the general population, from studies of twins -- could also explain the Amish phenomenon. Adopting their ways might have no benefit for outsiders. [4/18/96.]

It's hard to pry truth from statistical data, and sometimes even harder from TV specials. Perhaps there are many happy cultures, of which only the Amish were profiled for TV. There are also many roads towards happiness, not just "Force a smile and get on with life." Most religions and many folk practices aim to comfort the afflicted, and the quotation books are full of advice for leading happy lives.

An interesting claim in the TV special was that the pursuit of earthly happiness by the masses is a rather new concept. Most of humanity has been concerned with getting through this "vale of tears" to reach happiness in an afterlife. Even today, people in many cultures are surprised when asked if they are happy; they have words for the concept, but haven't given it much thought. An over-simplification, I'm sure, but I've seen such a reaction [on TV] by a Japanese salaryman. Romance in marriage is likewise a peripheral concept in many cultures. We haven't developed a single artificial intelligence yet, but it may take a community of AIs to reason about divergent cultural frameworks.

-- Ken