I am fascinated by the whole concept of “happiness” as a science and so I was intrigued when I saw an article recently about “The Happiest Man in the America,” so named by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. The Index is the composite of a survey that is done with 1000 random Americans every single day since January 2008, now accounting for over 1 million surveys of 1 million people.
According to the Gallup website, The Well-Being Index (“WBI”) measures six domains of well-being. Each domain is determined based on scientific study of responses to the survey questions and include:
- Life Evaluation
- Emotional Health
- Physical Health
- Healthy Behavior
- Work Environment
- Basic Access
The measurement tool goes from 1-10 in each of these domains and the numbers are aggregated in a way such that you get a score from the 56 various questions that ranks you between 1 and 100 (100 being so damn happy you could burst). Notably, in February 2011, 54.2% of those surveyed reported that they are “thriving” while 42.1% report that they are “struggling.” The balance self-report that they are “suffering,” which is very disconcerting, particularly since it’s the highest number in that category in over a year.
The good news is that American’s view of their own well-being is up significantly since the financial meltdown of 2008. However, the national overall score is 66.1 as of February 2011, which puts us just above “meh” on the scale of how we think things are going.
The happiest month of 2010 was April, no doubt coinciding with baseball opening day. I expect my own happiness index to peak on April 9, 2011 when the SF Giants receive their 2010 World Series rings. In 2011, the California Bay Area/Silicon Valley has consistently scored among the top 5 happiest metro areas, proving once and for all that happiness is entirely correlated with iPad ownership, as the media would have you believe.
I thought it interesting that, in February 2011, every individual sub-index measure was down except for two: basic access to resources needed for daily living and healthy behavior. The Healthy Behaviors Index is a four-question measure of smoking, exercise, and healthy eating habits. According to Gallup, this sub-index “moves in accordance with seasonal trends, [and] continued an expected upward trajectory from December’s predictable annual low, improving slightly to 63.1.”
Man, we are a predictable crowd. Healthy behaviors start out great in January when we are all making New Year’s resolutions to exercise, eat only whole grains and swear off Hostess cupcakes. By December we have said, “screw it, bring on the Baconator!” At least this February the number of Americans who exercise for 30 minutes or more at least three days per week improved to 48.3% (notably the exact same number as February 201), accompanied by a rise in the percentage of Americans who eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day four days a week (now 56.6%, slightly higher than February 2010).
Despite the good news regarding healthy behavior, the physical well-being sub-index was slightly down in February with the greatest drops in the Western and Midwestern United States, although the scale is relatively consistent in the high 70’s over the last two years. Despite this overall consistency on the scale, one of the more alarming trends over the 34 months of the WBI’s existence is the increase in chronic conditions and obesity. According to Gallup, “there are approximately 3 million more obese adult Americans now than there were at the start of 2008. Obesity, which was in the 25% range throughout 2008, jumped to 26.8% in early 2009, and has remained in the 26% range since.” Not surprisingly, they also found increases in the incident of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
More than 30% of the 1 million surveyed, a random selection of Americans, report that they have high blood pressure and 11% report they have asthma. 19% report that they do not have enough money to pay for needed medical care. These are very scary statistics when we think about how important medical care is to people with chronic conditions. Without early and regular medical oversight, people with chronic conditions tend to get far worse, experiencing costly incidents such as stroke and heart attacks. This is precisely the set of dynamics that our health system must “reform,” in whatever form that reform takes, must address. If we are going to break the cycle of chronic illness and the expensive acute incidents that accompany such illness, people are going to have to feel they can access appropriate care. Telling them to shut up and eat more vegetables isn’t going to do it.
So who’s the healthiest person in the world, or the closest proxy according to Gallup? He’s apparently a tall, Asian-American, orthodox Jew who is at least 65 and married, has children, lives in Hawaii, runs his own business and has a household income of more than $120,000 a year. Before you say no such person exists, they found a guy in Honolulu named Alvin Wong who matches the description. Wong is a 5-foot-10, 69-year-old, Chinese-American, Kosher-observing Jew, who’s married with children. He runs his own health care management business and earns more than $120,000 a year. Maybe he’s so happy because he’s like a unicorn; there can’t possibly be another guy with those same coordinates so he gets all the attention. Plus he lives in Hawaii, which is listed as the happiest state in the nation despite its total lack of a professional baseball team. Go figure.