A large body of social-science research over the past decade has been devoted to studying happiness. In general, researchers rely on self-reported measurements of happiness—which, according to considerable work by psychologists, statisticians, and neuroscientists, are actually quite accurate and comparable among individuals. (This has been shown by comparing people’s survey responses to psychological evaluations, surveys of family members, and even tests of brain activity.) And over the past three decades, the nationwide General Social Survey (GSS)—undertaken approximately every two years by researchers at the National Opinion Research Center—has been one of the only repeated surveys to ask people about their happiness and has therefore been used in many happiness studies.
In 2000, the GSS also asked adult Americans about their attitudes about freedom. About 70 percent of the respondents said that they were “completely free” or “very free,” and another 25 percent said that they were “moderately free.” Further, about 70 percent thought that Americans in general were completely or very free.
Perhaps such results are not surprising in the United States. But the GSS also revealed that people who said that they felt completely or very free were twice as likely to say that they were very happy about their lives as those who felt only a moderate degree of freedom, not much, or none at all. Even when holding income, sex, education, race, religion, politics, and family status constant, we find that people who felt free were about 18 percentage points more likely than others to say that they were very happy.
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