30 September 2011

Facepalm-Worthy Ignorance

Isn't it funny when you realize something and it bothers you to the point you immediately question and research, even if it is the wrong time to take out your netbook in the middle of a guest speaker's talk? That happened yesterday.

As I have stated in previous rants, I generally call myself a skeptic at heart. This strong sense of doubt, accompanied by cynicism, grows ever so mighty thanks to the institution I call a high school. Yes, religion has made me a bitter old woman trapped in the body of a teenager. Or perhaps it's all just the hormones that make me scream for attention.

Anywho. Yesterday two men in their twenties came into religion class from the seminary to talk about vocations. In order to ATTEMPT to guilt trip us by saying if you have any material security you are depressed like a suicidal maniac, one of the guys claimed that according to a Harvard study, the happiest country in the world is Nigeria. The least happy country? Russia.

Within seconds, a brain cell blew a bullhorn with all its might, commanding the universe to stop the tape and rewind. After letting the men go on about how to not deny the calling from "God," I asked where the source of this "information" is. They simply said something around the lines of... "A fellow priest told me it. I think the info is a few years old." Smooth move, dude, very smooth.

The rest of the day I spent time online searching for this study with no success. The closest thing I found to Harvard in any way was a popular course on happiness provided in 2006. Yet, I found a list similar to what the seminarian kid said... on The Happiness Show. Any surveys or studies I have found otherwise comes nowhere near close to what was said in religion class, often with any one of the Scandinavian countries ranking number one.

What is wrong with this picture?

First, we need to define "happiness." Just what is it? All I know is that I have my own wants, needs, and expectations that might make me think I am "happy" overall with life. Maybe you are in the same boat: happiness means something to the individual that cannot be objectively pinpointed to one standard or definition. They say one man's trash is another man's treasure, right? So what is "happiness" and how is it affected?

The red flag that came up initially in class was just that. These men took such a subjective and slippery concept and shoved it into an advertisement to serve the almighty Christian God. Going back to "The Happiness Show," we must ask why is Nigeria the happiest country in the world? How was the "study" conducted? What questions were asked? According to the site, it simply says:

"The University of Michigan's World Values Surveys (WVS) has compiled data on the happiest countries in the world for over twenty years. Their results are considered the most authoritative by happiness researchers.

WVS measures the happiness of individuals by two different means. The first is to simply ask them how "happy" they are. The second is to ask them how "happy" they are, and also how "satisfied" they are.  The results are then combined to arrive at a measure of their "subjective well-being," a term generally considered synonymous with happiness."

Let's see if I have this right. Your data is gathered by asking "How happy are you?" and you jot down the answer among the billions you gathered and produce a list? THEN you have the balls to claim your results are the "most authoritative by happiness researchers" WITHOUT giving any names?

The Happiness Show, here is my question to you, and please don't take too much offense. Do you think I am retarded? 

Your site looks shady, not just in the lack of professional images and layout, but the complete lack in having an extensive bibliography to back up your "most authoritative" findings. After exploring on other pages, you even make a bold claim on your "Ways to make our world happier" that "research finds that religious people are consistently happier than the non-observant." That statement is not an objective truth. Some studies show religion does relate to happiness; others find the connection indeterminable or pointless. But that is a controversy for another day.*

Problemo numero dos: Nigeria being "number one." Who was responsible for this work? What did you really ask? When was this conducted? Where in Nigeria did you ask? Why in the heck are they number one? On no other site have I found this list.

I think the greatest problem of all is that it all depends on the factors and standards placed under these studies. Not every one is conducted in the exact same fashion. Some factors may include data on economy, education, wealth, welfare and health, as well as responses to political, religious, and social ideologies. Furthermore, there is the human error. There might be incorrect information or a liar, creating inaccurate and contaminated results. Might I also add the bias that arises in how the information is released to the public?

That is what happens if you don't attempt to research by scratching the surface. That is why I was so upset over the speakers. For the sake of encouraging my classmates to serve the church, they carelessly relied on a random survey they heard from someone else that might have been misread. They used it as a tool to convince us that the poorer country is happier and, therefore, more religious. It is incredibly embarrassing and slightly disturbing. It happens all the time too...

So if your brain hurts from all of that junk, just remember one thing, dear readers. Have doubts. If something doesn't sound like it makes sense, question and research. These two tools will be your best friends for life. Do not be like those seminarians who gobbled up that vague information without consulting Ms. Question and Mr. Research.

But then again, these two had never heard of the term "Nordic" before and believed Luxembourg was in Scandinavia. Please, dear readers, do not succumb to this plague known as faceplam-worthy ignorance.

* Some sites I looked over breifly. Really, this research will go on forever...


1 comment:

KK said...

I just want you to know that I really, really enjoyed this post. Your writing and sarcasm are awesome! :)

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