Correction to This Article
A Feb. 14 article about a study on happiness incorrectly said that a presidential impeachment occurred in the mid-1970s. President Richard M. Nixon resigned in 1974, after the House Judiciary Committee had approved articles of impeachment but before the full House could vote on the matter.

A Study Finds Americans Unrelentingly Cheerful

By Michael Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 14, 2006

"What's happiness anyway?"

Say what?

We've got Raoul Felder, celebrity divorce attorney for the serially separated, on the telephone and he's taking issue with a big new survey on happiness, which among other findings states that married Americans are more blissful than the unmarried by a ratio of almost 2 to 1.

"All these people talking themselves into being happy about marriage -- it's mass delusion," Felder says with the certainty of a man who has become rich working the marital exit door.

Not that Felder fancies himself a sour lemon. "People who get divorced are very hopeful," he says. "They want to get happier."

So it goes with happiness, which in a new Pew Research Center report -- "Are We Happy Yet?" -- appears to be a smiley-face American birthright. Eighty-four percent of Americans describe themselves as either "pretty happy" or "very happy."

They've been relentlessly cheery for decades. The Pew report, released yesterday, comes with a chart known as the "Happiness Trend Line," which reveals barely a ripple since 1972. (For careful students of the inexplicable, the percentage of "very happy" Americans seems to peak slightly in the mid-1970s, which coincided with a presidential impeachment, the fall of Saigon, a fuel crisis and a deep recession).

The polling data slice and dice the happy and the not very, and why they are and where they live and how much they make.

So we find, aphorisms aside, that Americans are convinced that more money makes for more happiness. "Reported happiness rises in a nearly straight line through eight levels of annual family income," Pew reports.

A gilded euphoria sets in above $150,000, as fully 50 percent of respondents insist they are oh-so-"very happy." Does that trendline continue to arc upward? Are billionaires a gigglier group than mere millionaires? More data are needed.

"It's fine to say happiness is a state of mind," says Mitchell Moss, a New York University professor who studies his city's upper classes with an anthropologist's eye. "But it's a lot easier to have that state of mind if it's accompanied by big income."

What else? Dog and cat owners are equally happy, but no more so than the petless. Republicans and churchgoers have more pep in the step than Democrats and those who prefer to sleep late on Sunday.

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