The Rosebud Syndrome

One final blog entry to complete my Sunday morning procrastination in blogworld. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution mentions (registration required) a study by economists David Blanchflower of Dartmouth College and Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick in England which reports that an active sex life makes people happier than a large bank account. In fact, a “good family life” will make you happier than being able to pay your electric bill, according to the study.

Sex therapist Lynn Talmadge does question some of the study’s conclusions, noting that not all marriages are happy ones, but adds that “it is very good for driven Americans, who are taught that material things will buy them happiness, to pause and reconsider, because it’s the richness of relationships that makes us happy.”

I’m glad to see that economists and sex therapists are finally catching up to something that Hollywood has known all along. Just ask Orson Welles or Frank Capra. Or even Nicolas Cage.


  1. Chris Said,

    March 13, 2005 @ 6:26 pm

    I think my favorite sentence in their abstract for being comically jargon laden is “The happiness-maximizing number of sexual partners in the previous year is calculated to be 1.”

    Anyway there’s the issue of correlation not being equal to causation, so it’s still hard to know what is causing what.

  2. Chuck Said,

    March 13, 2005 @ 8:25 pm

    I somehow missed that sentence when I was skimming the abstract for their article, but given how jargon-laden some of my sentences are, I’m not one to talk. Still, there’s a weird “family values” subtext behind their argument: why is one sex partner per year necessarily going to make someone happier? Can you change partners from one year to the next and still remain happy? I have all kinds of questions here.

  3. Chris Martin Said,

    March 14, 2005 @ 3:17 pm

    That was a result of the study, not a recommendation. I downloaded the pdf of the paper and the t-value was high relative to some of the other factors.

    People with 1 sex partner tend to be married people, and we know from previous research that married people are happier than cohabiting, divorced, separated, or single people. I guess I’d look into the previous research about marriage and happiness to see if they also tried to look into the reasons behind this. There are various common-sense arguments that can be made, but they would be unscientific.

  4. Chuck Said,

    March 14, 2005 @ 3:39 pm

    I think I’m suspicious of anything right now that seems to imply that being “poor but married” will make you happier than being “single but wealthy,” hence my vague reference to Robin Wood’s concept of the “Rosebud syndrome,” a common ideology in Hollywood films that “the poor are happier,” an idea which is usually supported by the portrayal of poor families as having greater access to their emotions (hence the embittered “old man,” Potter versus family man George Bailey in Wonderful Life).

    In that regard, I’m less concerned with the study’s conclusions than with the way those conclusions were framed by the AJC.

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