Are the Amish unhappy?

We were able to recruit 52 Amish participants for our study of which 56 % were male and for which the average age was 44. Interestingly, the average levels of life satisfaction as measured by the SWLS (Diener et al., 1985) was 4.4; just above the neutral point. Above neutral scores are consistent with the idea that “most people are mildly happy” (Diener & Diener, 1996), and that mild happiness is evolutionarily advantageous (Fredrickson, 2001). Comparatively, the Amish satisfaction in our study can be interpreted as meaning that the Amish fall lower than members of many other groups. In a study of more than 13 thousand college students from 31 nations, for example, only students from Kenya (whose average life satisfaction was 4.0) scored lower than the Amish (Diener & Diener, 1995).

Anecdotally, the Amish society in which we conducted our study was fraught with contrasts. On the one hand, the Amish had a pronounced pro-social attitude. One man I interviewed, for example, had donated tens of thousands of US Dollars toward the medical treatment of his neighbor’s son, with no thought of repayment. Similarly, the Amish often helped one another in quilting, construction, and food preparation. On the other hand, these neighborly behaviors were confined to in-group members. There was a conspicuous degree of prejudice toward out-group members, especially ethnic or religious minorities. One bishop, for example, asked me whether I thought the space shuttle Challenger exploded because there was a Jewish person (Judith Resnick) aboard.

Another set of contrasts could be found in the relationship between the Amish and the larger “English” society in which they live. While on the one hand there is a strong cultural push to remain separate from industrialized society. The Amish I spoke with were highly invested in publicly conforming to group norms related to abstaining from the use of industrial technologies and from remaining aloof from broader society. Privately, however, the Amish revealed themselves to be as curious and as human as people from any other society. One participant, for example, admitted that he used his workplace telephone—an allowable technology—to phone a newspaper number that hosts recordings of the world’s news. Another informant revealed that she had secretly flown on an airplane. These examples reflect the on-going tension of a society that must—individually and collectively—continually re-negotiate its relation to the larger society in which it exists. Where subjective well-being is concerned, the tension between retaining traditions and adapting to new circumstances is an interesting issue for research.

…global and specific domain satisfaction should, theoretically, be in agreement. For example, if a person is satisfied with her romantic life, her friendships, and her family relationships—all specific domains—she should, logically, report about the same amount of satisfaction with her overall social life (the global domain). Diener and colleagues found that this correspondence occurred in some cultures, such as Japan. In other cultures, however, they discovered an inflationary effect. People in Colombia and the United States, for instance, are likely to inflate their global reports of satisfaction over that reported for specific satisfaction.

That is by Robert Biswas-Diener, there is much of interest in this paper on happiness in small societies.  Via Rolf Degen.  By the way, this article about Norway is worth a ponder too.


Why should global and specific domain satisfaction "theoretically" be in agreement? If one is satisfied with romantic, friendship and family relationships, it's logical to be very satisfied with overall social life--being so fortunate as to have all three subdomains going well.

And yet, as noted here, that is not always the case, as noted in the very last cited sentence - 'People in Colombia and the United States, for instance, are likely to inflate their global reports of satisfaction over that reported for specific satisfaction.'

Cocaine is a helluva drug.

That is fully consistent with what John said. The question is why would it not be the case for other countries.

I suspect that the 52 who agreed to participate may not be representative of the subgroup as a whole.

The fact that there's a little cheating here and there with their culture's rules doesn't surprise me. I would expect that anywhere; it just stands out among the Amish because their culture is such a different subgroup.

And the stay instance of bizarre anti-semitism, while reprehensible, is hardly unique. A city councilman in Washington, DC, after all, recently speculated that perhaps the Jews are to blame for the city's recent cold weather.

"stray" instance.

And the stay instance of bizarre anti-semitism, while reprehensible, is hardly unique.

Actually, it's odd and unimportant. You can read the Unz comment boards if you want to see what people who actually are chronically infuriated with the Jews have to say.

I initially read that as "Utz" and got a little freaked out that my favorite potato chips had an anti-Semitic comment board. They are based in Amish country, after all.

Also worth pondering is why the BBC link has '?ocid=socialflow_twitter' appended when the link works just fine without it. Probably the sort of question that a good product manager could answer.

It's a conspiracy!!!!1

Of course it is not a conspiracy. It is simply that both owners of this web site seem pretty unaware of how much information can be found in links or pictures. Prof. Tabarrok posted an image from India with full EXIF info, for example - date, time, longitude/latitude, height, etc. Recently, he also posted a link that was connected to his GMU account -

This is one of the things that has made reading MR's coverage of the Internet so hilarious - neither of the owners actually seem to know much in this area.

However, with the coming redesign of this web site as announced by Prof. Cowen (answering a comment that approaches parody in a certain sense - ), one can be reasonably confident that someone with a lot more Internet awareness than a typical MR commenter will be well paid to ensure that as much useful data as possible will be scraped from every visitor.

And as for the BBC tag? Best guess (twitter being as meaningless to me as Facebook), it just shows that the user found the article through Twitter, thus allowing the BBC to better keep track of twitter's reach in terms of how the BBC is accessed, without the BBC needing twitter's involvement.

Gee, you sure do know a lot about the WWW

I wonder how much of the "inflated" global domain satisfaction is real satisfaction derived from categories they didn't think to ask about.

Or omitted essentially for ideological reasons.

Or maybe some people tend to feel satisfied without needing reasons for so feeling, just a general orientation toward contentment.

"How do you feel?"
"How about your feet?"
"Well, it's been a long day, and they're pretty sore."
"How about your back?"
"It's sore too."
"I thought you said you feel fine."
"I do."

An interesting question is whether the Amish are evolving to be more Amishy as they socially construct a culture that favors some genetic influences and disfavors others:

"To a 19th century American, the Book of Genesis provided a vivid example of how a nation is bred: through inbreeding."

That's the problem of not reading the whole book. You may miss the part where God tells Moses a list of no-nos.

Incest was forbidden, but marriage of close relatives such as first cousins (which Sailer's example alludes to) was not forbidden and was pervasive in the Old Testament.

Don't also miss the sequel where Jesus talks about how some things were allowed ("because your hearts were hard"), but not necessarily a good idea. Plus, not everything in Scripture is prescriptive; much is descriptive.

I hate it when Christians culturally appropriate the Hebrew bible.

Jesus was a Jew and his first followers were all Israelites, yet they didn't view what he said as "cultural appropriation".
Needless to say this in no way justifies what Christians have done to Jews since.

You would have a point in relation to Muhammad, say, or Joseph Smith - gentiles from outside the nation of Israel - telling Jews what their holy books really meant. But Jesus and Saul/ Paul were both card-carrying Israelites, and an estimated one in six of their fellow Jews found their interpretations of Torah plausible.

First, incest is the sexual relationship between consanguineous individuals. Inbreeding is the outcome of said act. Incest is qualitative, inbreeding is quantitative.

From the incest perspective having a child with your sibling is a no, and cousin no problem. From the inbreeding perspective, sibling and cousin have a different degree of consanguinity, but it's consanguinity.

Ps. the Amish already have a higher rate of genetic defects, how cousin marriage can help them?

That's not until Exodus.

"There was a conspicuous degree of prejudice toward out-group members, especially ethnic or religious minorities"

Amish are themselves an ethnic and religious minority.

But they're not out-group members

Not ethnic.

Perhaps they weren't an ethnic minority once, but they certainly are now. Genetically, Americans are as German as they are English. But ethnicity is about culture. Americans retain very little of the Germanic culture of their immigrant ancestors (fewer than 1% speak German).

By "Amish" do we mean people who don't own modern electronics (Pennsylvania Amish, "the fourth amendment doesn't apply to GPS") or who don't own modern firearms (California Amish, "the second amendment doesn't apply to semi-autos")?

Don't forget the Utah Amish who don't drink alcohol, or the Middle East Amish who don't eat delicious pork.

I don't think alcohol or pork is quite as modern as electricity or handguns, but I'll ask God when he created the pig.

Those who forsake old things like pork, alcohol, and sex are puritans, whereas people who forsake new things like electricity, firearms, and fidget-spinners are amish.

this sort of sociological research is moderately interesting when you can't think of an obvious angle for the researcher to push (unlike say men and women stuff). But it's still self selecting group picking numbers to talk about how they feel, it's just a thing which someone did which we can talk about for a bit.

Above neutral scores are consistent with the idea that “most people are mildly happy”

That goes along with the frequent observation that certain technological advances and government social policies increase happiness, which implies that happiness exists on a continuum and as society evolves people become more and more happy, which is, of course, ridiculous. That would mean that moving backward in time people would be less and less happy. Ergo the Republican Romans must have been extremely miserable folk. Citizens of the Greek city states must have walked the streets with tears in their eyes. Ancient Egyptians muttered oaths under their breath as they shoved the huge blocks that made up the pyramids into place, with the help of a space alien or two.

They probably did mutter some oaths. I hear those Mammoths smelled really bad.

And perhaps a third of the Ancient Athenian and Republican Roman population were slaves. So I am pretty sure the chances of them being miserable were non-trivial.

You honestly believe people were as happy 150 years ago as they are today? Life was shit for most people for most of human history.

Certainly no unhappiness in the last century or so. No deaths in war, no deaths due to disease or accident. No getting stuck in traffic on a daily basis. No searching for parking space. No dope addicted offspring needed to be bailed out of jail. No cheating spouses giving one social diseases. Life is pure bliss. That's why no one goes into psychiatry or counseling anymore. Everybody is so happy. And they'll be even more happy tomorrow, even more next week, more yet next year.

"One bishop, for example, asked me whether I thought the space shuttle Challenger exploded because there was a Jewish person (Judith Resnick) aboard."

Because Jews bring bad luck and God's wrath, because she sabotaged the shuttle or because the Arabs did it?

Surely the lesson here is that helping others makes you miserable. Score one for Ayn Rand.

It's being in the presence of others--whether you're helping them or not--that makes you miserable. When you can help people from a distance--like with electricity through the phone or computer--the helping itself doesn't make you miserable. When you give up electricity and have to help people in person, yes, you're going to be miserable by being near other people.

No, it is score one for Sarte. Hell is other people.

What Sarte meant by that is that our capability for empathy (i.e. to see ourselves as others see us) is the source of all shame or guilt.

Which we can solve getting rid of other people.

> In a study of more than 13 thousand college students from 31 nations, for example, only students from Kenya (whose average life satisfaction was 4.0) scored lower than the Amish (Diener & Diener, 1995).

Not sure if college students are a great comparison. College is often the happiest time of life for many people. You work very few hours, yet still have high social status. You have very few responsibilities outside of class. And the responsibilities you do have are well laid-out unambiguous check-the-box. You often live in a tight-knit community with abundant social interaction with your friends. The culture is very egalitarian, and unless you're on the verge of failing out, nobody feels like they're falling behind relative to their peers.

My guess is that nearly everyone is unhappy compared to college students.

Yeah, that's why they violently protest conservative speakers on campus, because they're jolly content folk.

The students who do that are a single-digit minority, and it's a reasonable wager that in most cases, they're cat's paws of the student affairs apparat. There's a reason these kids are never punished. What they're doing is institutional policy.


I went to college in the last decade, but I could count on one hand the number of people I met who were outrage activists. Most of us were too busy doing drugs and having sex to give politics any more attention than occasionally wearing an anti-Bush t-shirt.

Accurate on all counts.

Happiness = money. Hence I am very happy. And don't take my word for it, here is what an internet propaganda piece from China says:
"Strong economic growth has helped to enhance people’s sense of happiness in China, said Angus Deaton, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2015. The feeling of happiness among Chinese people experienced remarkable increase from 2000 to 2016, a period during which the Chinese economy reported significant growth, Deaton said"

Actually all the research shows above $75K/year or so of income, no increase in happiness. So now we know just about where you are on the income scale. 1%? Maybe in the PH.

The default human condition is unhappy. For good reason: a happy person isn't as likely to anticipate something bad happening to her. But too much of a good thing, including unhappiness, can be a really bad thing for oneself and everyone else. Of course, the reality is that, for the most part, life sucks. Those who give in to this reality are a real bummer. You know the type: they try to suck you into their vortex of unhappiness. Avoid them. Pleasure seekers, on the other hand, are aware of the reality of unhappiness and seek to avoid it by a perpetual pursuit of temporary pleasure. You know the type. The worst combination is when a really unhappy person hooks up with a pleasure seeker, a marriage not made in heaven. When that occurs in the public sphere, such as when a really unhappy person, someone like John Bolton, hooks up with a pleasure seeker, someone like Donald Trump, we are all in big trouble.

Wow, that was a surprise twist ending.

LOL, but Bolton really does seem like the most miserable bastard ever.

At least he has that "1980s engineer" look going for him.

What a twist!

So, M. Night, about The Village.....

Yeah even my mom hates that one.

"Amish participants for our study of which 56 % were male": 'whom', you bastards, 'whom'.

I had some friends from Finland and they would talk derogatorily about the Lapp Landers. The Sami are a different culture and might be more likely to look the pother way on those things.

Have you isolated other profoundly religious people? In my experience, they tend to dismiss the notion of "happiness" as a fleeting response to external stimuli. Ask them about joy and inner peace and you will likely find them scoring much higher than the rest of society.

I'd guess that's right, especially in the case of the Amish. A present day college professor is usually an unthinking Epicurean, as in they assume that 'well being' is tied up with how pleasant one's life is, and have never so much as pondered for a second that some people might think otherwise.

The Amish obviously do think otherwise, their whole ethic looks like it's built on a theory of what human thriving is that doesn't look like Epicureanism at all, and though I'm pretty sure I could deduce most of their thinking on this score from their customs, it would be very interesting if there were somewhere some sort of written document by some Amish elder, best from a time around when they got off the technological advancement train, sometime during the 19th century I'd guess.

The Amish place a high value on humility. "Average" is the answer you'd expect them to give.

Read the Bible. The Amish are not on this earth to be happy necessarily. They are here to be grateful of God’s love for us all. They would rather go to Heaven than be happy if that is the choice. For them there is no other choice.

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