Happiness, The Prime Objective

Everything else being equal, if we feel happy, we live longer. Of course, everything else is usually not equal, but never mind, we need to maximize our feeling of wellbeing if we can. Other primates have similar problems with longevity. A large number are living in our zoos and so it is easy to check up on them. We have a choice about which zoo we live in. They do not.

Weiss, Adams and King from the Us of Edinburgh and Arizona (1) have followed a large number of Orangutans in zoological housing for a 7-year stretch. First of all, 174 of them were numerically rated as to their wellbeing.

This was necessarily a little subjective as it was based on the answers to a questionnaire. The BBC reports (2) that they had help from their caregivers at the zoos who were asked how happy they thought that they would be as an orangutan in their zoo for a week. They were also asked to fill in the questions on each orang’s personality and how much time they spent happy and enjoying themselves.

Over the 7-year period, 31 of the group died. In the wild they live to about 30, but in the zoological environment, 60 is more typical. The results of the study showed that the happiest ones lived about 11-years longer than the awkward, miserable ones.

Clearly we should take this message to heart. We already know that living in our highly developed human zoos, we have a much greater life expectancy than those living in the third world. But are we grinning enough? How do our keepers rate our wellbeing? Can you imagine the answers that they would write down when filling in our questionnaires for us? Maybe the next time we vote, we should think not just about life and liberty, but should also be upfront with the pursuit of happiness. You can’t pursue anything very effectively after you been well and truly screwed by the oligarchs, can you?

  1. http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2011/06/10/rsbl.2011.0543
  2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/13925983

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