Mixed Blessings

Tension between the U.S. and Europe is typically seen in terms of public policy. However, polling by Harris Interactive detects a more fundamental difference in peoples’ outlook on life. When people on both sides of the Atlantic were asked to assess the lives they lead, 57 percent of Americans described themselves as “very satisfied.” In the 15 European Union nations surveyed, an average of 21 percent said they’re very satisfied with their lives. Only Denmark (64 percent) was cheerier than the U.S. by this measure, while Germany (17 percent), Belgium (17 percent), Italy (16 percent) and France (14 percent) sounded downright morose. When asked whether their lives have improved in the past five years, 49 percent of Americans said they have, vs. an average of 36 percent for the EU countries. Ireland (54 percent) and Sweden (50 percent) were the only European nations to surpass the U.S. on this question. On the question of how they believe their “personal situation” will change during the next five years, Americans were the most likely to expect it will improve (63 percent, vs. an EU average of 40 percent). Intriguingly, the proportion of Americans expecting their lives to worsen during the next five years (8 percent) wasn’t much lower than the average for the EU countries (11 percent). But the proportion expecting life to “stay about the same” for that period was markedly lower in the U.S. (26 percent) than in Europe (41 percent). Perhaps stasis seems like the natural order of things for many Europeans, while it’s inconceivable for most Americans. And, expecting life to change, Americans are inclined to guess that it will change for the better.

The formal dining room has fallen so far out of favor that many new homes don’t have one. Might the living room be next? In a survey conducted for Home Furnishings Now, “one out of two respondents said they do less than half their living in their living rooms.” Just one in five do 80 percent or more of their living there. Elsewhere in the poll, respondents were asked to say which of four luxury products they’d like to have “if money were not a factor”—a plasma TV set, a six-burner professional cooking range, a king-size bed with top-of-the-line mattress and linens, or a copper bath tub “from a classy plumbing supply house.” More than half of those polled picked the TV set, with the bed as runner-up. The tub finished dead last.

Test your food-and-beverage acumen: Who’s more likely to be a frequent customer of quick-serve restaurants—someone who quaffs sports drinks or someone who consumes diet carbonated soft drinks? In a poll by Scarborough Research, 27 percent of adults who had a sports drink in the previous seven days had also gone to quick-serve restaurants at least 10 times in the previous 30 days. The equivalent figure for drinkers of diet sodas was 19 percent. Those who regularly wet their whistles with regular soft drinks fell in the middle (22 percent), as did drinkers of tea (24 percent), specialty coffees (22 percent) and 100 percent fruit drinks (21 percent). Scarborough suggests that fast-food outlets, which tend to push soft drinks, “may have an additional opportunity in sports drink sales.”

Honors this week for the Best Use of a Seemingly Unrelated Brand in a Golf-Instruction Ad go to Targeted Golf of Charlotte, N.C. Another ad in the campaign (by Boone/Oakley of Charlotte) shows a chunk of beef shank as you’d see it packed for sale at a supermarket. A third execution features a fishing hook. Golfers—especially inept golfers—will quickly grasp the references.

Americans aren’t going to be pleased if gas prices head back up this summer after having fallen from their pre-Iraq-war peak. In an ABCNews survey, people were asked to say what they think a fair price is for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline. Their answers averaged out to $1.24, well below current levels. Twenty-seven percent of respondents thought $1 or less would be a fair price; just 13 percent said anything above $1.50 was fair.

Illegal-and-slow isn’t a winner; illegal-and-fast is. A study by The Yankee Group forecasts that teens’ downloading of music “will increase dramatically as broadband penetration increases.” Among teens who don’t filch music via the Internet, 20 percent cited the illegality of doing so. But 30 percent said they’re restrained by a slow connection. Thus, peer-to-peer file sharing is likely to rise once this “speed barrier” has been removed.