When psychologists talk about happiness, they don’t mean a temporary emotion and people who are happy just in a particular moment in their life (although of course ‘being happy’ is also considered as a short-term state of mind). Positive psychology as a science perceives happy people as those who are optimistic and content with their life more in general and in the long term. They use the terms life satisfaction or SWB (subjective well-being) to cover this in their research.
There is a term called the hedonic treadmill in psychology (which I mentioned in one of my previous blog posts) and it basically means that we get used to new things and situations quite quickly and come back to our usual happiness level after big events have happened in our life – which are significant in either a positive or negative way. Thus, lottery winners and people who lose a limb in an accident are on average, after around a year, as happy as they used to be before these major events took place! It sounds quite unbelievable but there is a lot of evidence that external factors, situations and events, even if significant, don’t have that large an impact on our well-being as we think they would have.
Happiness can be achieved and enhanced by using the power of your mind and inner abilities! We now know, for example, that a change of habits is possible. Our mind is a lot more powerful than we think it is. We often underestimate what we can achieve just by changing our mindset, setting goals and taking actions; and we overestimate external factors. Maybe because that’s easier? What do you think?
Have a look at my recent video about science & happiness: https://youtu.be/xd0KT9gJask and let me know what do you think about it! Thank you!:)
Sometimes, when reading academic textbooks and articles on happiness – which is called subjective well-being SWB in research literature – I was REALLY surprised by new findings. We think, for example, that having children would make us happier and then… what do we find out? 😉
Research found that happiness IS NOT related to:
- Physical attractiveness! Striving to look as perfect as possible and spending a lot of money on clothes, make up, and cosmetic surgery does not equal happiness – this can be quite surprising for some people.
- Age! Some of us worry about getting old to the extent that we may think that older means unhappy! There are various findings, sometimes contradictory, about this aspect but most studies emphasise that your happiness level doesn’t depend on your age much or at all!
- Money! When you meet your BASIC needs there is not much difference between someone who is earning a low or average wage and a filthy rich person in terms of happiness! I know it may sound unbelievable for many people. Kasser in The high price of materialism (2002, available here) proved that actually desiring and focusing on the pursuit of wealth would make you LESS HAPPY! And quite often the more we have, the more we want!
- Gender. What’s interesting is that women have a greater tendency towards being depressed… but also towards being more joyful!
I found a picture which I think may be able to explain these findings… 😉
TYPICAL DAY IN A MAN’S LIFE:
TYPICAL DAY IN A WOMAN’S LIFE:
- Educational level
- Having children! Although some clarification is more than needed here 😉 It was found that having children who are up to 5 years old or teenagers makes us actually LESS HAPPY! However, children can make our life more meaningful and what’s interesting (in spite of all the stress and worries), parents live on average longer!
- Moving to a sunnier climate
- Crime prevention
- Objective health (what your doctor tells you about your health – how good your blood test results are, what you are diagnosed with, etc.)
- Environment & genetics! Even if in your genes there is some coded predisposition towards becoming unhappy or depressed, if you grow up and live in a positive, engaging and encouraging environment you can actually become HAPPIER than someone who has genetic predispositions to be content!