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Has happiness left the South?

    If a recent study of geotagged  internet postings (tweets) is true, the Duck Dynasty gang from A&E’s reality television show may be among the few who are happy in their state of Louisiana.
    Despite the Duck Commander patriarch’s book, joyfully named “Happy, Happy, Happy,” Louisiana, along with other deep-Southern states like Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, are apparently home to the unhappiest people in the nation.
    Geographically speaking the happiest folks live in Hawaii, Maine or one of the clusters of cities in sunny California or Colorado, according to a study by researchers at the University of Vermont.
    To find this out, researchers scored more than 10,000 words on a positive-negative scale and measured their frequency in millions of tweets across the country. What emerged showed significant regional variations in happiness.
    The most unhappy places, the ones we Southerners call home, include states that have high levels of poverty and the shortest life expectancies. That we can understand, but if we asked what makes us happy  likely responses would range from a new car, less body fat, a higher-paying job or winning the lottery.
    These things, however, are being shown to have less impact on our happiness than we may think. Researchers are now finding that our happiness depends less on external circumstances – like materialistic things – and more on our perceptions and experiences.
    Sure we need enough money to pay our bills and have a little left for extras, but we adjust our moods to match our life’s circumstances. So a person who makes $50,000 a year may be happier than someone who earns just $10,000, but Americans who earn $5 million per year are not much happier than those who earn $100,000 per year.
    To those of us in the smaller income brackets that may sound as far-fetched as money growing on trees, but the people who study this sort of thing say it’s true across the board.
    The happiest among us hands-down are those who contribute to the common good – and we have lots of people right here in Pickens County who do that every day through their volunteer efforts. Researchers say that happy people live in a great community and we think Pickens County, with its lack of crime and temperant weather, is a place anyone can find happiness.
    Perhaps those of us who find ourselves living in the “sadness belt,” as defined by the Vermont researchers, can change our ranking by “catching” the happy emotions of others. Let’s make a point to take on new challenges and fulfill our sense of purpose so the next time a study comes around trying to figure out who’s happy, we’ll put Pickens County on the same map as Asheville, North Carolina - the only Southern town to garner a  happiness button.
    Doing things for others makes us happy in a robust, satisfying way - more than the happy we feel when we eat that greasy McDonald’s hamburger. Not to say a perfectly-cooked Big Mac isn’t wonderful, but being compassionate to those around us promotes a different type of happiness - one that lasts much longer than a box of chocolates.
    To achieve happiness we don’t have to move to Hawaii or California, but simply focus on those things in life that bring true, long-term happiness, not fleeting moments of joy. Thinking of the past fondly; spending money on life experiences instead of material things, or smiling at someone when you walk by are just a few ways to find truer happiness.
    Putting friends and family first, too, is essential because the nature of our relationships count. Simple companionship like just hanging out or going to the movies together can make us happy.
    Besides, who says us Southerners aren’t happy? When we can grow beards like the guys from the Duck Dynasty clan who wouldn’t be happy?
    Tweet that, researchers.