In 1651, Thomas Hobbes declared life to be "nasty, brutish and short." One hundred years later, philosophers were still arguing the point, with Kant and Rousseau supporting Hobbes and Locke opposing him.
Michael I. Norton and Lalin Anik, of Harvard Business School, and Lara B. Aknin and Elizabeth W. Dunn, of the University of British Columbia, decided to put Hobbes' claim to a more empirical test. Among their findings: Those who say life is short and hard are more likely to expect bad things to happen to them, even though they are no more likely to have experienced these things in the past than folks who say life is long and easy.
What's your life like?
In a series of experiments, the researchers asked three questions:
- How happy are you?
- Is life short or long?
- Is life easy or hard?
- "Short and hard" was the most popular response, with 51% of North Americans describing their lives this way. (A parallel study in India found similar, but not identical, results) Not surprisingly, these folks were the least happy.
- Only 13% said life was long and easy. These respondents were happiest.
- Some 18% said life was long and hard.
- Some 18% said life was short and easy.
- 80% of the "long-and-easy" individuals said they volunteered, compared to 48% of those who said life was short and hard
- 87% of those who said life was long and easy donated to charities, compared to 55% of those who said life was short and hard
- Folks who said life was short and hard were more likely to expect these sorts of bad things to happen to them in the future.
- Everyone except those who said life was short and hard expected to experience more positive than negative events in the future. The "short and hard" camp expected to experience an equal number of positive and negative events.
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Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor and consultant. Follow her at www.twitter.com/weisul