… And Justice For All (except for those who have to slog through this monster entry)

Here’s another desultory entry for you. I’m finally done with the semester! The last couple of weeks have been really fun and really tiring. It was my birthday the Wednesday before last, and many people were kind enough to remember. A prolonged birthday celebration combined with various other social outings, a final project, and an extremely addictive and exceedingly long book trilogy I’m reading = yadda yadda yadda, I’m tired today. This week looks to be just as jam-packed.

Happiness is understudied. If you imagine life as just a series of decisions, what’s the best way to live it? A simple and universal metric for making any decision is to weigh the options in terms of the change in expected happiness over your lifetime that will result from each option, and pick the one that makes you the happiest.[1] This is a remarkably simple philosophy, and one that I’ve been weighing for the past couple of years.

To clarify, this decision procedure does not advocate hedonism or selfishness; by using the word “happiness”, I’ve sneakily encompassed all aspects of what you value. For instance, it very well might make you happier to donate to a charity than to not; you might feel better about helping an old lady cross the street than just watching her, even though you do it anonymously and for no reward. Even if you grudgingly have to go save your irresponsible friend from another sticky situation, you probably do it because the alternative — shirking the responsibility yourself — is even less appealing.

I’m not sure how convincing I am here (I’m writing in a big rush), so if you don’t buy this argument, let me know and I’ll flesh it out some more!

Okay, so it’s likely that you already unconsciously apply this metric when making decisions. I’d like to advocate making it as conscious as possible. Instead of saying, “buying product X will save me $50, and that’s good” or “that new 5 megapixel camera takes great pictures!” or “I can’t believe X screwed me over again; I’m going to get back at him”, try to actively quantify that in terms of how much happiness it’s going to bring to you…. of course, many people have advocated this; it’s nothing new. However:

So assume that I’m thinking in this context. How do I make my decisions? How do I decide if I should spend my vacation reading up on a topic that’s always interested me, or hiking? Any decision in this framework is predicated on your happiness function: something that takes in a course of action, and spits out an estimate of how happy it’ll make you. The more accurate this function, the better your decisions will be (and the less you’re likely to regret them). What’s amazing to me is: a) how inaccurate our built-in happiness functions tend to be (see below) and b) how little research there is on what really tends to make people happy. This seems to be the single most fundamentally important question people ask themselves, and yet we’re spending all our money building missile-defense systems (and funding computer science research, haha). Of course, people are very different (which is why some people choose to help the old lady and others don’t), but we’re all human, and it seems likely that, as with other aspects of human nature, our happiness functions overlap in many places. Let’s start widespread studies about what makes people happy! (Or, at least, what makes them think they’re happy, if there’s a difference there.)

Here are some relevant links:
People are bad at estimating their future happiness. People tend to exaggerate the impact of a decision in terms of its expected impact on their happiness. Signs of a bad happiness function! Of course, it’s very plausible that we’re biologically set to mispredict happiness, as that will probably keep us motivated. I wrote about this a while ago.

What does make us happy? A good bit of empirical happiness research. Read it to see how you should spend that raise you just got…

If you search on NewsDog, you can find some more…

Eek, I would like to ramble more but I have to leave soon! (I wrote the rest of this entry first.)

[1] I really mean “the integral of the change in your happiness” — the total amount of happiness you gain. This favors options that make you happier for longer, which makes sense. For instance, right now you have two options: live your life as you do, or go on a coke-fueled binge until you O.D. and die. This second option will likely make you very happy, but only for a short period of time (before you die prematurely). The first option may not be as exhilarating, but the total amount of happiness you derive from it — over the full extent of your natural life — most likely makes it a more appealing candidate. (However, this theory does suggest that very old people should go on cocaine-fueled binges, rather than waiting for a sad, drawn-out death. I’m not sure that this is such a terrible idea.)

Does the jury system make sense? Metallica’s, … And Justice For All happened to be sitting on my desk the other day, and it reminded me of some thoughts I’ve had about the jury system. A couple of years ago, I had a really interesting conversation with my friend Caterina while hiking up Half Dome in Yosemite. She was studying to be a judge in Italy. It turns out their legal system is quite different from ours with respect to trials: decisions are made by judges, rather than by a jury of normal citizens. The decisions are fully documented by the judges and are peer-reviewed for bias or inaccuracy.

At first, this struck me as bizarre, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Here are some of the flaws (that I think are) present in the jury system:

  • Jurors probably don’t know the law very well. I certainly don’t. Each juror has to be informed of the nuances of the law — and is then expected to apply it correctly, with little or no prior experience. A trial judge presumably is well-equipped to apply the law.
  • Jurors are more susceptible to trickery. Good trial lawyers seem to be known for their persuasive powers, their ability to convincingly humanize or demonize the defendant, their knack of “touching the hearts of the jury”, or whatever. If it’s a matter of interpreting the law and the evidence, then this kind of stuff should not be a part of the process. Granted, there is a lot of subjectivity in law, but I’d rather trust a professional who is aware of and resistant to the persuasive tactics of lawyers than ordinary people who have no such defenses. (It seems to me that, in theory, the outcome of a trial should not be a function of the quality of the lawyers arguing it.)
  • A jury is also more susceptible to corruption. All you have to do to prevent a guilty verdict is to get a single juror to adamantly stick with “not guilty”, forcing a hung jury. I imagine it’s a lot easier to bribe a single juror — often pseudo-anonymous and protected — whose life only tangentially relates to the trial at hand, and who has very little accountability in the end result, than it is to bribe a judge whose entire career stands to be ruined.
  • Jurors have other lives. We are required by law to serve as jurors, often at great personal cost and inconvenience, and with little compensation. I’ve never actually been in a real jury, but I imagine that as a result there is probably some pressure to get a trial over with, which might lead to some rash judgements.

Of course, there are problems with the judge-only system, too: are the judges elected or appointed? Can we design a peer-review system that’s transparent enough to root out bad or corrupt judges? etc. But I think the current system has enough flaws that it’s worth considering.

Anyway, I have jury duty next Monday, so I may get to see how things go first-hand :).

Cal’s football season. My friend Tom is expecting me to rant about the recent BCS fiasco, and who am I to disappoint someone who actually reads this blog? Here’s the background: Cal (Berkeley) had its best football season in about 50 years, losing only one game — and that one, a nailbiter decided by one bad possession, was to the number 1 team in the country, USC. Yet Cal ended up fifth in the country in the BCS rankings, just narrowly missing out on $10 million and a chance to play in the Rose Bowl. Here’s my take on the situation:

Cal should have been fifth. Perhaps to make a point, Cal didn’t run up the score on some of its opponents, a tactic traditionally necessary to rank highly in the BCS. Then they complained about getting a bad ranking. This is dumb. Either you play by the rules of the system, however foolish, or you make a statement (as they did), and then deal with the consequences. Unfortunately, you can’t have it both ways. Also, by the end of the season, Cal’s receiving corps was totally devastated (its last good receiver broke his leg in the last game) and thus Cal really wasn’t as good a team as it was earlier in the season. Dropping from fourth to fifth seems acceptable in this context. (Of course, even then, the fact that “according to a Sports Illustrated report, three writers — from Fort Worth, Dallas and Austin — changed their fourth-place votes from Cal to Texas in the final AP poll” [from here] pisses me off.)

The two real travesties, then, are: first, there are four “real” BCS bowl games, which you might think should include the top eight teams in the nation. Cal is in none of them. That’s crazy. Second, J. J. Arrington had an unbelievable season — clearly better than the other Heisman RB candidates — and wasn’t even close to winning the Heisman — mostly because of the idiotic practice by the sports media of picking preseason Heisman candidates and hyping them up all season, even if better players surface along the way. Grr.

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19 Responses to … And Justice For All (except for those who have to slog through this monster entry)

  1. awu says:

    1: The thing about the hedonistic happiness treadmill is that it may be that whatever level of happiness you attain, you’ll just get used to it.

    An argument against maximizing the integral of delta happiness is that humans don’t have perfect memories. Studies show, for example, that it’s not how long something lasts that we remember but the high point and how it ends.

    (Something like that. I’d look up the reference but I gave away the book (Paradox of Choice in question.)

    I’ve been trending, over the past few years, towards an approach that spreads happiness around more evenly, but I think that’s just not quite me. Give me the big guns baby…

    Anyway, lots of people study happiness now. Seligman, for example?

    Another maybe-hard-to-answer-if-you-think-about-it question: Can one be happy if one thinks constantly of how to be happy? ^_^

    • aj says:


      Although your personal approach (spreading happiness around) seems to go against that argument about remembering the high points, etc. Maybe it’s best to be unhappy with just a few moments of incredible happiness…

      “Another maybe-hard-to-answer-if-you-think-about-it question: Can one be happy if one thinks constantly of how to be happy? ^_^”
      I think it’s really difficult. However, I think real (significant) happiness-affecting decisions come along rarely enough that in those cases it’s more than worth it to think about happiness.

  2. amen

    with regard to heisman / BCS nonsense. arrington deserved to be in the final five, no question. just compare his one head-to-head matchup with another candidate, vs. leinart and reggie bush. of course, by that metric rogers should have won, but that wouldn’t be *so* outrageous, really.

    as for the BCS, the only thing i can really get worked up about is that Pitt is in a “major” bowl game. They should drop the big east as a BCS conference and have another at-large berth (which would go to, of course, Cal). actually, i’d really like to see an 8-team playoff, but that ain’t gonna happen.

    • aj says:

      Re: amen

      Yeah, it’s a total load of crap. Pitt isn’t even in the top 20, right? Who exactly does this make sense to?

  3. oh yeah

    and why the hell do we even have computer rankings?

    i feel like you can basically prove (any statistical/graphical modelling people to back me up on this?) that, given the sparseness of the graph of college football matchups, specifically how completely it separates into almost disjoint cliques, that’s it’s impossible to generate meaningful computer rankings based solely on score information.

    i’m all for eliminating human error in rankings, but the human voters have an infinitely richer data set available on which to make their ranking decisions. maybe we can get the computers to analyze the games play-by-play, player-by-player, but until then, the output of the computer rankings will be total garbage. has anyone even shown that convergence of the rankings is stable in the initial conditions? also, the computers evidently hate cal, so i’m calling them out for that as well.

    • aj says:

      Re: oh yeah

      “i feel like you can basically prove (any statistical/graphical modelling people to back me up on this?) that, given the sparseness of the graph of college football matchups, specifically how completely it separates into almost disjoint cliques, that’s it’s impossible to generate meaningful computer rankings based solely on score information.”
      this would be super interesting. it would be a great thing to investigate, if no one’ already done so?

      the computer rankings might be there to avoid ridiculous stuff like all the voters from textas switching their votes from Cal to Texas. and i think the computers don’t like cal because it had a weak schedule.

      anyway, i think the worst part is that cal doesn’t get to play in a bowl game. if it were up to the computers, i bet, they’d select the top eight teams to play :)

  4. ngj says:

    With respect to juries–the strength of the system depends on the values of the common person. It’s democracy, for better or worse. The alternatives, like professional jurors, strikes me as far worse.

    A single juror can indeed be bribed–but this means you have a mistrial, and have to repeat the process. Most or all of them would need to be bribed to get something in your favor, without any of them revealing the offer. Professional jurors could be bribed once for a longer time, and because of their status, would gain power in society.

    And finally–it’s not a bad thing to be pulled out of your routine and see just who your fellow Americans are. It can be enlightening, stereotype-breaking, and at the very least a reminder that America is larger than the circle of people you know. Even if you think you have nothing gain, you might have something to give.

    There are studies(I think?) about how wars unite a country, how when you’re in the army, you see the races and cultures fighting alongside you, and when the army returns, the soliders have a different sense of both their country and their fellow citizens. Jury duty is the bloodless, miniature version of war.

    I might grumble a little when I get a jury summons–but I don’t think I’d have it any other way.

    • aj says:

      I disagree

      (Actually your thoughts mirror my initial ones on the subject, which have since changed upon further reflection; perhaps the logic I followed does not appeal to you.)

      “With respect to juries–the strength of the system depends on the values of the common person. It’s democracy, for better or worse. The alternatives, like professional jurors, strikes me as far worse.” It actually isn’t democracy, and it definitely shouldn’t be. The strength of the system relies upon the codified laws of the Republic, not on the utilitarian values of the common person, which is why it works so well. (Perhaps look up “Republic vs. Democracy” in Google.)

      I agree about mistrials, but that just keeps the defendant free for longer. An endless series of mistrials is roughly equivalent to freedom.

      I think it would be difficult — at least, more difficult — to bribe judges (the ones who make the decisions) in this system. Remember, they have to provide a written justification of their decision. In the sense that this justification is a proof of guilt, it can be checked, in many cases, more or less objectively with respect to the law. The very fact that the judges are actually held accountable for their decisions is powerful, I think.

      “And finally–it’s not a bad thing to be pulled out of your routine and see just who your fellow Americans are.”
      This I totally agree with. However,
      “It can be enlightening, stereotype-breaking,”
      Yeah, or stereotype-enforcing. It could be a positive thing, but it could just as easily be a negative thing. Why use the jury system to expose people to the rest of America? Why give them power as they’re being exposed, rather than afterward? I’m happy to let (or require) them to sit in on a trial while a judge makes a decision; this may provide the same eye-opening effect.

      “you see the races and cultures fighting alongside you”
      But what about the races and cultures fighting against you? I imagine it’s pretty easy to hate “slanty-eyed Japs” or whatever if they’re trying to kill you all day. Why do you imagine that participating in the trial of someone accused of murder will make you sympathize with his plight, rather than constructing additional stereotypes about his ethnic (or whatever) background?

      • ngj says:

        Re: I disagree

        “It actually isn’t democracy, and it definitely shouldn’t be. The strength of the system relies upon the codified laws of the Republic, not on the utilitarian values of the common person, which is why it works so well. (Perhaps look up “Republic vs. Democracy” in Google.)”

        Hm. I guess the years of Civ training have blinded me a bit–after several articles, I think I agree that democracy is Not a Good Idea, at least unless your people are all extremely moral. If people in general are greedy, like economists would say, then a democracy is doomed.

        A jury is kind of like direct representation, isn’t it? Except for the part about the majority(and it is actually majority for civil cases, isn’t it?), it is a group of people voicing meeting to make a decision. I guess it’s also true that those twelve represent the entire country–but their word isn’t governed by law as much as feeling. I still think it’s more a democracy.

        Whether it should be or not is a different story. It really depends on how that accountability works out–who’s going to go over those justifications and say they’re right or not? It would have to be the people, because any other government branch could be aligned with the judges. The checks work(I think) because two things are given power over each other.

        As to the long series of mistrials–I think judges are aware of the history of a case and might request sequestered juries after one or two mistrials.

        Yeah, or stereotype-enforcing…
        About the stereotypes–It strikes me as weird that additional factual information should increase false stereotypes. It might enforce the ones that are true, but how do you break stereotypes.

        When I said stereotype-breaking, I meant that you would see your fellow jurors in a different light. You’ll have to work together with strangers to figure out what justice is.

        The person on trial may or may not be different–I don’t know if the average person will think that the defendent represents all people, but I think it’s more likely that someone of the same ethnic background/race would be on the jury(a defense lawyer would almost certainly make this so) and that the jurors would relate more to this person.

        But what about the races and cultures fighting against you?
        Yeah. That’s kind of an additional downside to real wars(besides killing people, etc.). Trials against someone who’s accused of murder… I dunno. I think of jury duty as a war on falsehood, or a war for justice/truth, as opposed to for/against the guy in the defendent’s chair.

        • aj says:

          Re: I disagree

          (An aside: I think that even if people are “moral” [not sure exactly what that means], a pure utilitarian society can still be pretty unstable. e.g. Sure, maybe it is better to sacrifice one innocent person to save five others, but you don’t want to live always in fear of being that guy.)

          I agree that a jury is like a little democracy. My point is that it really should be as rigid as possible, a direct application of the existing law, rather than anything even reasonably autonomous. The democracy part should come in creating the laws (or electing the people who do); once they’re there, you’d reasonably expect as consistent an application of them as possible — for instance, you might say, in an ideal world, it doesn’t matter who my jury is; the outcome of the trial should be the same. Right? So juries should strive to interpret the law, not create it.

          As for accountability, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to have a peer-reviewed system, where other judges review decisions. I think peer-review fails if a reviewer stands to gain from collusion (or vice-versa); then he might be inclined to bias his review. Hence, politics is a bad sphere for this kind of thing — I may support your bill, even if it’s stupid, because it benefits me and my home state too.

          However, it works quite well in academia — where reviewers still might actually benefit from biased reviews — and the proposed judicial system seems to be built in the same way, bereft of many collusion incentives. Of course, I would also require that all decisions be made available for public scrutiny, so that people can call out biased judges, just in case.

          I agree that you might see your fellow jurors in a different light (or not — I think prejudices die hard)… but why give this lesson at the expense of another person’s life? Why not just have required civil meetings, where 12 people sit around and discuss an issue? What if the lesson fails? I think the stakes are just too high.

          “but I think it’s more likely that someone of the same ethnic background/race would be on the jury”
          What if the defendent is, say, Indian? Indians are less than 2% of the population, and since the defense has only a limited number of exclusions, there is a very low chance that more than one jury member is Indian as well. He’s not going to make much of a difference.

          Anyway, as I said above, it shouldn’t matter, in theory, how the jury is composed. That it does means that there is some luck in the process, which to me is a criminal thing. If the verdict is dependent on the day (and the corresponding jurors) that I am put to trial, that seems patently unfair to me.

          • ngj says:

            Re: I disagree

            Wow, this is a lengthy exchange =) Lemme know if you want to do email instead. (and sorry I’m so wordy =| )

            I think that even if people are “moral”…
            By moral I mean… not entirely self-serving, I think. In the case of one guy sacrificing himself for five others, it should be okay, because everyone should see the same reasons. The guy who’s doing the sacrifice should see that it’s necessary, that he’s best suited for the sacrifice, and volunteer to do it. (Very Vulcan, I know.) Very not like the traditional view of people, which is “me first, at least in the long run”

            it really should be as rigid as possible, a direct application of the existing law
            The problem with law is that it can be complicated. It’s an attempt to put order to a world which is full of millions of situations. Ordinary people are supposed to be the common sense of the system, because laws cannot cover all situations(though they try). Killing isn’t wrong in all cases–there’s self defense. What about self defense of others? Pre-emptive self-defense of others? Laws couldn’t possibly cover every last detail–so whatever application occurs is going to depend on the interpreter(s).

            It’s like… grading finals, I guess. I grade, and I write the rubric, and I use that as I go, and it makes things fair. But sometimes an exception comes along–the work on the page indicates the person knows what he’s doing, but he doesn’t fall along the categories the rubric states, or it does, but it’s clear the person has a better understanding than someone seven papers ago. Do I stick to the rules I’ve laid out, or do I create a new one? It’s a choice between equal application(fairness) and a better decision(rightness). I would rather things be more right than more fair. If juries are bound to the law, then we pick fairness–their hands will be tied if the law doesn’t cover the situation aptly.

            I think it’s perfectly acceptable to have a peer-reviewed system…
            I don’t know how the judicial system is in terms of collusion benefits, nor do I know academia. It feels self-contained though–like all the power is stuck in one not-very-large spot. It’s like… letting doctors handle each other’s malpractice cases. What if judges agree to watch each other’s backs–let a bad verdict slide now and again, but so rarely that the public won’t catch it, and the people directly involved don’t have enough power to do anything?

            but why give this lesson at the expense of another person’s life?…
            Well, the civil meetings thing probably won’t work–half of everyone I know doesn’t see the value of jury duty. They won’t go, and it’ll be tough to say “it’s your civic duty to talk about things for X hours”

            It looks like you think the jury will fail more than a judge in finding the right answer. I don’t agree–Multiple people have a greater wealth of experiences to draw upon. I think they’re more likely to do the right thing than one person. It’s so very easy for one person to think your view is the only view.

            (And multiple judges would be culled from the same backgrounds–self selecting for a certain type of person, so I don’t think that would work either)

            What if the defendent is, say, Indian?
            Yeah. Sorry. I typed it, and was thinking “hmmm…that’s not always true” but was too lazy to type another paragraph. It is supposed to be a jury of your peers, but alas it’s not always the case. If you get just a single member though, and it’s entirely unjust what the other eleven think, and it’s a criminal case, then the one can reamin steadfast and you get a hung jury.

            It’s still more likely than your judge being Indian though.

            If the verdict is dependent on the day (and the corresponding jurors) that I am put to trial, that seems patently unfair to me.
            It is unfair. But the proposed alternative(judges allotted to cases) is no better–it’s still dependent on the people you get judging you. In fact I don’t think you can get complete fairness, not in human endeavors like this. At least, not without mechanical rigidity, and again, the price of that is the inability to adapt–that is, more wrong decisions.

          • Re: I disagree

            But legally, juries are bound by the law. If they’re doing their job properly, as it’s set out for them, they’re supposed to be mechanistic. It *is not* a jury’s job to interpret the law, or to consider extenuating circumstances. If the law is unjust, that’s handled by different channels in our legal system, such as appeals on constitutional grounds, etc.

            In light of that fact, I’ve got to side with AJ on this one; professional, peer-reviewed judges deciding cases would be fabulous. (Incidentally, I just got a jury summons, too, but I deferred until March)

          • ngj says:

            Re: I disagree

            Hm. [more googling] So it is… I could’ve sworn it was otherwise–I suppose this is popular culture and famous examples getting in the way. Or faulty memory. =/

            I’ve decided I probably don’t know what I’m talking about in this whole thing, so I’m going to very quietly sit down and go back to work. =)

          • aj says:

            Re: I disagree

            Hey, I don’t know what I’m talking about either… That’s part of the fun! :)

          • aj says:

            Re: I disagree

            Unfortunately I have to leave for NY early tomorrow morning, so I can’t continue (my end of) the discussion, but here are some last thoughts.

            Rigidity: see Steve’s post.

            There are ways of making a peer-reviewed system sound. Send the decision out to five other judges; if one differs, then mark him as inconsistent (and value his future reviews slightly less), etc. Of course, the public is able to view all decisions, in the (extremely unlikely) case of large-scale collusion.

            “It’s still more likely than your judge being Indian though.”
            True, but remember, judges in this process aren’t just normal people with “normal” prejudices. Because of the review system, they have been selected for being especially unbiased — the ones who are not get kicked out. The fundamental point of my argument is that the judges are better equipped to make these decisions, because they have to make them all the time, consistently, with full accountability. Jurors don’t. Thus it shouldn’t matter if the judge is Indian or not.

          • ngj says:

            I accidentally came across this from the personality description of my type(infj). It frighteningly echoes my thoughts–maybe this is why I think like I do!

            –clip from infj description–

            Though I believe in order, and the need for rules or guidelines, I do not
            like rules to reign supreme, rather I prefer them to be guidelines. There’s
            always exceptions, gray-areas, etc. in life that rules and procedures can
            never completely cover (sorry NT’s and STJ’s). For example, I am a staunch
            advocate of jury nullification, that is, the power a criminal jury has in
            rendering a verdict based on their conscience as well as on the facts. If I
            served on a jury, and I felt the law was unjustly applied in the case under
            consideration, I would not hesitate to vote not guilty (and to convince the
            other jurors of my beliefs in this area) even if the facts showed the defendant
            to be clearly guilty. I would presume that most INFJ’s would support Jury
            Nullification once they understand what it means (feedback here?), while SJ
            and maybe NT personalities would oppose it (though it is a jury’s perogative
            to do that if they want according to many court rulings over the years).

          • aj says:

            Haha, wow, I think that explains it :). Pretty amazing.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Happiness is NOT understudied!!!

    I loved the “Happiness is understudied” essay you wrote. It’s not easy to study, particularly if you want to quantify results. It is studied a lot in psychology departments and such. Well, no 2 people define happiness the same way, and more importantly, emotions play such a big factor, as do subconscious level factors such as fears, that even for 1 person to truly understand her OWN path to long term happiness, is hard. A chap in a little village in India, with no financial prospects (or needs!) who lives an extremely simple life uncomplicated by material possessions and their maintenance, to me is a role model for perfect happiness. He doesn’t seek intellectual fulfilment, family, anything. He’s very content watching the train pass by his village while he lazily wakes up at 11AM, milks the cow and brushes his teeth with no plans for the day, no calendar of appointments, and absolutely no stress of any kind. Some people seem to turn to religion to make them happy – although I cannot do it, I have started to understand it.
    Deepa (aging relative in Austin, Texas)

    • aj says:

      Re: Happiness is NOT understudied!!!

      I’m glad you liked it!

      I agree it’s definitely not easy to study — but of course, finding good ways to go so is a great place to start researching :). Also certainly people have different thing that make them happy, but with 6 billion people, I don’t believe that there are 6 billion totally different ways to make people happy. My guess is that, as with many other human behaviors/emotions, there is a big common area of what makes people happy. And we should at the least investigate that.

      But I do think it’s still understudied. There are definitely scientists hard at work, but it’s still a sub-field of psychology. I think it should be its own HUGE field, at least as big as any other, and why not? It’s the thing we all concern ourselves with, all the time. There should be happiness departments at every university, and every new happiness study should be as widely publicized as each new study about losing weight is today. The government should base its policy decisions on happiness instead of economics (like Europe, which is slowly — but much faster than the US — trying to make its people happier, even if that means they aren’t working 10 hours a day being productive).

      Maybe in ten years :).

      I’m with you on the religion thing. I don’t get it, but I have friends who are religious, and I can see why it makes them happy.