“Given the enormous obstacles… how could this be true?”
Carol Graham of the Brookings Institution studies happiness and inequality. In September, she analyzed Gallup-Healthways data that asked respondents to predict how satisfied they would be with their lives in five years.
She found something that might seem surprising: black people, whether they were rich or poor, displayed the most optimism of any group.
Last month, she looked at feelings of optimism among poor groups by race. Here too, she found that poor black people had the highest likelihood of feeling optimistic.
Poor black people were also less likely to say they were experiencing stress than poor people of other ethnicities.
Given the enormous obstacles that black people—especially poor black people—face in America, how could this be true?
In a phone interview, Graham pointed me to research showing connections between a sense of community and optimism. For instance, a 2001 study by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government found that levels of civic engagement—”how much residents trusted others, socialized with others, and joined with others, among other measures”—predicted the quality of community life and residents’ happiness far better than levels of community education or income.
Krisanne Johnson (b. 1976) grew up in Xenia, Ohio. She graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Colorado and pursued postgraduate work in visual communications at Ohio University. She is currently based in Brooklyn, NY.