Friday, April 26, 2013
In my last post I wrote about how happiness (or unhappiness) tends to “wear off” over time, as we adapt or become accustomed to whatever made us happy (or unhappy). This phenomenon has been called the “hedonic treadmill,” since the implication is that no matter how hard we work, we will arrive back exactly where we started. Richard Easterlin first reported signs of this phenomenon in research surveys of happiness, so triggering a controversy that still runs and runs.
As you might expect, research seems to support the notion that there are certain basic needs to be met which do have a big impact on happiness; things like food, physical safety and comfort for example. In monetary terms in the Western world, this is somewhere around the equivalent of US$10,000 (See Diener & Seligman, “Beyond Money” APA, 2004, http://internal.psychology.illinois.edu/~ediener/Documents/Diener-Seligman_2004.pdf). But beyond that basic level the rise in reported happiness measured as a feeling (psychologists call this “positive affect”) with increasing income is relatively weak.
However, there are more things to consider in all of this than meets the eye. It especially matters what you choose to measure as “happiness.” Happiness as a feeling might be surveyed by asking people how happy do they feel, today, yesterday, and “in general” and to rate it on a scale on a scale of 1 to 6. On the other hand, if you ask people to rate their “satisfaction with life,” then a slightly different picture emerges.
Afghans, for example, were happier than the world average as measured by the happiness question, but scored much lower than the world average when they were asked about how satisfied they are with life, and lower still when asked how it compared to “the best possible life”. Whilst surprisingly cheerful, it is not unexpected that Afghans know that life is better elsewhere. (Graham, 2010, “More on the Easterlin Paradox: A Response to Wolfers” http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/up-front/posts/2010/12/15-happiness-easterlin-graham)
So, as far as I have understood it, the latest conclusions are that in fact the more your earn the more satisfied you may be - which is a kind of “mental” evaluation - but it is far less clear that you'll feel much happier. You pays your money and takes your choice?
Friday, April 19, 2013
You surely have noticed how the start of the nicer weather lifts most people’s mood? How long will it last – not the weather – the better mood? If it were warm and sunny ever day…. ? I remember the first time I ever met someone from Saudi, in my youth, and he told me how he loved our weather. His wife loved it even more, because of “all the different clothes you get to wear in the different seasons.”
So it’s not just the weather itself is it? Or is there something in this about things “wearing off?” Certainly psychology speaks about this idea – often termed the “hedonic treadmill.” This explains how when we achieve a goal of some kind, like for example buying a new car, getting a promotion, a nicer house, that it’s more exciting early on, but then we adapt to our new circumstances over time. This adaptation works with unpleasant circumstances too.
Turns out that some of us need a bigger buzz than others, but tend to fall back further, as if to a natural “set-point” happiness level. I think this is borne out by common experience, don’t you?
The other side of the coin is that some of us are just miserable blighters, while others are just naturally cheerful whatever. Dr Ed Diener has written some nice things on this if you want read more http://www.factorhappiness.at/downloads/quellen/S9_Diener.pdf.
And Friday – for most people – opens up two days off the treadmill J
Friday, April 12, 2013
Thoughts on happiness
Happiness may be more interesting than you might have thought. If happiness were just a feeling… then is all happiness equal in “value”? If not, then by what reference would you reasonably “judge” or rank happiness?
How about this way of looking at kinds of happiness:
- Unhappy for no reason
- Unhappy for bad reason
- Unhappy for good reason
- Neutral or simply “satisfied” – neither happy nor unhappy as time goes along
- Neutral “on the average” – i.e. “ups” balance out the “downs” over time
- Happy for bad reason
- Happy for good reason
- Happy for no reason – just happy J
Which are you most like? What does “good” or “bad” mean here? Do you think a ranking can be made? On what basis? How important is it? Do you agree with the listed order of ranking?
Have a happy weekend!