Are you happier if you’re more attractive?
The question alone has problems. How do you define happiness? Who decides what determines “attractive”? Aren’t plenty of beautiful people miserable? And so on.
Science hasn’t consistently found a connection between beauty and happiness. I say beauty does translate into happiness, and the science that claims it doesn’t isn’t connecting enough of the dots.
This is not to say that there aren’t other, more substantive sources of happiness. But I believe that physical appearance is far from irrelevant. Good looks lead to happiness because the more attractive you are, the more access you have to all the things that make people happy.
Starting with the basics: Yes, there is such a thing as an objective standard of beauty. Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that humans are attracted to symmetry. The most symmetrical faces are universally deemed the most beautiful.
Clearly the widespread belief is that the better you look, the better you’ll feel. Sounds shallow, but we’re in a country in which 1.5 billion cosmetic surgeries took place last year. We’ve got a multi-billion dollar cosmetics industry. Annually, Americans spend more money on beauty products than we do on education.
Gretchen Rubin, writer of the best-selling book The Happiness Project, explains on her blog of the same name that while psychologists see no link between beauty and happiness, “pretty people do have an objective advantage.” She cites studies that have proven what you’ve likely gleaned from personal experience.
As 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon discovers when dating the hot-as-a-cartoon-pilot Jon Hamm, a handsome guy will get the star treatment from friends and strangers alike, even if his only contribution to society is his face. Good-looking men and women are hired more often and, once employed, make more money than plainer looking peers, Rubin's data demonstrated. She adds that they “have better grades, have more polished social skills and even commit fewer crimes.”
You might be thinking, “Isn’t that enough, beautiful people? Exactly what else do you need to be happier than the rest of humanity?”
Rubin’s response is that attractive people are so used to being gorgeous, they’re numb to the perks. One could argue that the solution to this is to start being cruel to the inordinately attractive at a very young age, perhaps as early as kindergarten, so as to lower their expectations and allow for a more appreciative adulthood.
Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize-winning psychologist, studied happiness by having thousands of people keep diaries recording what they did and how they felt. He found that “intimate relations” and “socializing” made people the happiest.
He doesn’t chalk that up to the way people look, but he could have. The better-looking you are, the more likely someone will want to, well, have intimate relations with you.
Still, there have to be other sources of happiness. College junior Rebecca Matte says, “I think a definition of happiness based on your relationships is very narrow. Success and achieving your goals are just as important.”
And a relatively new Positive Psychology movement — which has roots at Penn — is saying a number of the simple things in life, from altruism to gratitude, are the most consistent sources of happiness.
As it turns out, beauty does make you happy — it’s just not the only thing that makes you happy. In fact, many studies reveal that we have no idea what makes us happy. All we know is that we have the right to pursue it, which should come in handy… if we ever decide what it is.
Jessica Goldstein is a College junior from Berkeley Heights, N.J. Her e-mail address is email@example.com. Say Anything appears on alternate Wednesdays.Comments powered by Disqus
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