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January 26, 2010



Pity the Fat Widow.

John Terry's Mum

But are you rich?

(typo ~~~~~>
One possibility is that there are some bad things we adapt to, and so we don’t )

Chris Purnell

Fat people are encourage to 'lose weight' and are therefore being subject to an objectifying critique. There is no counter-veiling critique 'gain weight'. Meanwhile bereaved people are not criticised but are, when noticed, subject to positive sentiments. Even divorced people usually 'divide' friends (as well as possessions) and there self- select people who will not blame them. It is therefore blindingly obvious why fat people are miserable and stay miserable. BMI 27; married 40 years


I'm surprised Chris's normal scepticism leads him to put much store by all this happiness stuff. Other evidence produces much stronger effects for widowhood:


Or, to put it another way, results in this field are unreliable. Something odd about this research? Yes, it's using dubious data of very doubtful comparability across people and time to draw very strong conclusions by authors but ones often contradicted by other studies.
(FWIW I'm a widower; if I can stop putting on weight I should be right as rain in a couple of years though :-)


I should point out that having a high BMI doesn't necessarily make you fat. Many sportsmen have high BMI due to their career, but you wouldn't call them fat.

Anyway, with these types of things, I often wonder if the solution is that emotions between different people and over space and time aren't directly comparable.


What I don't understand about this piece is the juxtaposition of fatness and bereavement- why are you comparing these (very)different issues in the first place? And when in considering bereavement, why concentrate on the death of the spouse? Anecdotally, I have observed that the death of a child has a much more searing, long-term impact than the death of a spouse, which in my country is affectionately and traditionally compared to the pain of jabbing your elbow- sharp, but rapidly forgotten. Can you imagine comparing the misery the a fat person and a person who and lost a child or close sibling- even four or five years down the line?

In answer to your last question, yes, i do think there is something off-base in these happiness studies, though I am no expert on these types of studies. Sometime ago, we were hearing that women without children are "happier". Then recently we got to hear that, no, sorry, actually women in traditional marriages with children are happier. Happiness is such an incredibly subjective, fluctuating state of being that I simply cannot understand how any study can claim to have a well-rounded and "true" quantitative indicator of it.

Sorry for ranting.
An admirer and long-term follower of your blog.

Luis Enrique

This should just reinforce the fact that 'happiness' is a poor guide to what's worthwhile or what society's priorities ought to be. Happiness research is interesting stuff in itself, but it is badly abused when it is used to construct any argument along the lines of "economic growth does not make us happier therefore we should not bother with trying to grow the economy" ... there are a great many things that are worthwhile but which don't make us happier, and many things that don't make us unhappy (in the long-run) but which are still to be avoided. Adaption is the main mechanism.

Paul Sagar

Surely this just shows that attempting to "compare" happiness and types of happines - by asking participants to objectively records their inherently subjective experiences and then treating the answers as necessarily commensurable - is hopeless.

Which is not exactly a suprise. Aristotle pointed out about 2,300 years ago that happiness - whilst based on an objective human flourishing (in his opinion) - is something which consists of incredible complexity, and needs to be thought about on a whole range of matrices (possession of adequate resources, having friends, experiencing some types of good pleasure in the right way, having a harmonised soul in accordance with virtue, etc).

We might not agree with Aristotle's rationalist, function-based account in detail (and it's worth noting that his concept of happiness has some sort of "human flourishing" component built into it). But that happiness is a complex phenomenon and that commensurate comparisons of responses to a basic questionairre-type survey are hardly likely to get at the essense of what we think of as happiness is hardly suprising.

Hence it's no suprise how counter-intuitive the OP is, and why people in the comments are getting bemused.

But good post. Thought provoking and interesting as ever. (I envy the ability to put out a proposition whilst resisting the urge to stamp an answer on it; it makes for much better blogging).

grumpy young woman

Erm, sorry to be dense, and I know it's not really the point of your piece, but the fact that "men and women who have been widowed are happier in the 3-4 years after their loss than they were the year before it" is maybe not so surprising when you think that many deaths are preceded by illness. So the last year of your partner's life is often not a very happy time.


As someone who is morbidly obese, this doesn't surprise me. I just wrote a post on my blog about it - here is piece of that...

"Being morbidly obese has crushed my self esteem. It’s always with me – I’m always aware of it and always thinking about how people view me. I spend more time avoiding people than socializing. I even stopped taking care of myself. I don’t care about clothes anymore, my grooming has suffered and my teeth have become yellow from all the diet coke I drink. It’s a depressing existence."


in fact, obesity is a huge factor, and accompanying health problems, poor self-esteem, trust issues and social acceptance, on the other hand, in most cases, the individual's fault as it should be careful not !

hanimant patio furniture

Self-esteem is lost if you don't accept your wholeness as a person. It is as lonely as losing a loved one too.

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