The secret of happiness
September 29, 2008 at 3:14 am
The American dream tells us that we are free to pursue happiness, but it does not give us directions. Even life-changing events like winning the lottery have been shown (Brickman 1978) to only increase happiness for a short period of time.
The secret to long-term happiness is a concept that seems too sacred to be studied and dissected. However, there are many researchers devoted to this topic, and this Sheldon and Lyubomirsky paper presents a beautiful theory about sustainable happiness.
This elusive goal is difficult and can be impossible. Many past studies have shown that everyone has a basic level of happiness from which they can only temporarily deviate. It is even more regrettable that 50-80% of this basic luck is inherited.
The researchers in this article divided events that increase your well-being into: changes in activity (intentional acts like exercising) and changes in circumstances (like assigning a great roommate). They conducted 3 studies on psychology students who had recently seen increases in wellbeing. These studies showed that lasting happiness is only possible through changes in activity. Conscious changes led to a greater boost of happiness and more varied experiences.
After a period of time, those who experienced an increase in well-being due to a change in activity maintained their increase more than those who experienced the increase due to a change in circumstances. Those who became happier by chance got used to the change and were no longer affected by it.
There is no shortcut – effort and hard work are the best roads to happiness.
Sheldon, K. & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006). Achieve lasting happiness: Change your actions, not your living conditions. Happiness Research Magazine, 7, 55 – 86. [PDF]
Editing by Jeff Huang
Entry filed under: happiness, personality, psychology.