The combination of youth, coffee-drinking, conservatism, and living in the Bay Area is apparently bliss. That's what research says, anyway, and who are you to argue with research?
Earlier this week, we explained the factors that, according to several leading papers, can make men trendy. Now, as a public service, we venture into even more important territory: happiness. How do you get it, how do you keep it, is it possible while Breaking Bad is on hiatus?
Here's what makes someone the happiest person in America:
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The Happiest Age a Person Can Be Is Either 23 or 69 Years Old
Who Said It: Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics
Researchers at the CEPLSE found that if you mapped happiness in human life, it would form a "U"-shape and peak at 23 and 69. That means that midlife is really, really depressing. "One theory is that the U-shape is driven by unmet aspirations which are painfully felt in midlife but beneficially abandoned later in life," the study's report reads.
The report adds:
A complementary theory builds on the neuroscientific finding that the emotional reaction to missed chances decreases with age so that the elderly might feel less regret about unmet aspirations.
So, the gist is this: humans are happiest when we don't have to worry about expectations. That explains why our peak happiness is at 23. And we won't reach such happiness again for 46 years — and then only after we've lived a life of broken dreams, which makes the latter age, 69, less happy in our un-scientific opinion.
That Happy 23-Year Old Probably Lives in San Jose
Who Said It: CareerBliss.com
Now that we've established that 23-year-olds are the happiest humans on the planet, it pays to look at the best place for this joyful demographic live. The top of the heap, turns out, is the Silicon Valley nerve center of San Jose, according CareerBliss, an online career website. Would you have guessed that? Yeah, us neither. Anyway, here is what happiness looks like:
San Jose, which is often overshadowed by San Francisco and Los Angeles, won because young professionals there might genuinely be <strike>terrible</strike> nice, happy people who are kind to their coworkers and play a lot of foosball while thinking up of some new app with a -ly suffix.
Writing about the survey, The Huffington Post quoted a representative from the local Chamber of Commerce, who said:
Many start-ups, and even more established companies, created a new work culture that is very relaxed—no set work hours, flexible work spaces, collaborative approaches, employee cafeterias, work out centers, etc.—so employees can spend a lot of time at the office and not feel like it’s all work, all the time.”
Also, they have paintball.
That Really Happy, San Jose-Living 23-Year-Old Is Probably Drinking Coffee
Who Said It: The Harvard School of Public Health
So the Harvard School of Public Health didn't determine that coffee-drinkers are the happiest people on Earth, but what researchers there did discover is that coffee can actually bring down the risk for suicide. "The authors reviewed data from three large U.S. studies and found that the risk of suicide for adults who drank two to four cups of caffeinated coffee per day was about half that of those who drank decaffeinated coffee or very little or no coffee," writes Marge Dwyer in a release about the study.
The secret is caffeine, which can act as an antidepressant. It makes coffee drinkers less prone depression than non-coffee drinkers, and therefore less likely to commit suicide, researchers note. The thing is that the happiness-effect of coffee only acts on people who are already drinking the stuff. Guzzling down lattes isn't recommended as a mood uplifter, Dwyer explains:
In spite of the findings, the authors do not recommend that depressed adults increase caffeine consumption, because most individuals adjust their caffeine intake to an optimal level for them and an increase could result in unpleasant side effects.
"Overall, our results suggest that there is little further benefit for consumption above two to three cups/day or 400 mg of caffeine/day," the authors wrote.
What also matters here, of course, is the number of young people drinking coffee. According to 2011 statistics from the National Coffee Association, around 40 percent of young adults aged 18-24 drink coffee.
Here are some coffee shops in San Jose:
That San Jose-Living, Coffee-Drinking 23-Year-Old Would Be Happier If He Voted for Mitt Romney
Who Said It: Journal of Politics/Brock and Ryerson Universities/Pew Research
As my colleague Philip Bump noted, the study is a little off in that the university studied perceived happiness in psychological terms, not political ones. But what they found isn't too far off from what's been discovered in the past. Bump points to a research study from Pew that more explicitly says that Republicans have, throughout, history been happier than Democrats.
Now, that conservative wasn't born a conservative — he was turned into one, most likely by a female sibling. Based on a study of 3,000 individuals, researchers Andrew Healy and Neil Malhotra claim that having a sister tends to turn boys Republican. The Pew Research Fact Tank Blog explains the findings, noting that female children are more likely to help around the house and that this imagery manifests itself into more socially conservative views for their brothers later in life:
At the extreme, they found that young men who grew up with sisters but no brothers in their household are 8.3 percentage points more likely to identify with the Republican Party than boys who grow up with only brothers.
Researchers have found that sisters are more likely than their brothers to help wash the dishes, sweep the floor and do other traditionally gender-stereotyped tasks around the house. For example, in the data they examined, about 60% of boys but 82% of girls 10 and older with younger siblings told interviewers they were expected to help with the dishes.
This early exposure to gender stereotyping, the researchers argue, translates into more socially conservative views in later life.
For what it's worth, I have two brothers and one sister. Our political views are split. And I am not sure my sister actually did chores.
But the thing is, young people are most often Democrats. As Pew found, young voters still overwhelmingly vote blue. The most sound evidence of that came in 2008, when they showed up en masse to vote for then-Senator Barack Obama. So to get the political-happiness juice, this 23-year-old coffee drinker living in San Jose would have to go against the grain. Which makes some people unhappy. So there.
So Does This 23-year-old Coffee-Drinking, San Jose-Living, Conservative Exist?
Maybe? But he or she is rare. According to the 2010 Census, 20 to 24-year-olds living in San Jose only represent about 6 percent of the city's population, or about 64,000 people. And if you go by the National Coffee Association's statistics that only 40 percent of young people are coffee drinkers, then only 25,754 of those young people between 20 and 24 are tapping into their full happiness potential. That's about 2 percent of San Jose's population of 967,487—a speck compared to the American population as a whole. And that's not even taking into account people within the 20-24 demographic who are too young (22) or too old (24) for peak happiness.
Indeed, the happiest person in America is a unicorn. And odds are, it isn't you. But not to fret, there are millions of miserable people all around. That should make you a little happier, right?
Photos: Downtown San Jose: Wikimedia Commons; hipster: AP Photo/Swoan Parker; child: AP Photo/Julie Jacobson