A few weeks ago I expressed skepticism of studies showing that the modern world is not much happier than times past. Unlike Arnold Kling, however, I do not reject the implications of happiness research altogether.
The ever-excellent Michael of 2Blowhards.com has now come forward and offered a good summary of what happiness research implies...
“Everyone seems to have a pre-programmed “set point” for happiness — a level of happiness they’re genetically programmed for, and to which they’ll always tend to return. There isn’t much that can be done to change this set point.
Genetics and inheritance seem to be responsible for as much as half your tendency towards happiness or unhappiness.
Even huge positive changes in a person’s life — getting married, winning the lottery — only affect happiness levels for about six months.
The rich are certainly happier than the abject poor. But for most people, more money doesn’t tend to lead to much additional happiness, at least once basic material needs have been met.
Three of the hardest things to cope with emotionally are widowhood (or widowerhood), longterm unemployment, and caring for a sick loved one.
The best way to deal with a case of severe, long-lasting unhappiness is to take a mood-boosting pill. In many cases, a six-month course of treatment will effectively jolt the depressed person out of his or her rut.
Pursuing sex and status don’t make people happy. They’re things that we, being human, do — but they don’t necessarily lead to happiness. [TC: What if they conducted these happiness surveys *during* the act?]
People who are forever chasing after happiness — who crave blasts of euphoria — tend to be much less happy than people who are willing to let life (and their moods) take their own course.
Some tips for being happy:
If your job isn’t especially rewarding, pursue a hobby you love, one that delivers experiences of “flow.”
Don’t focus too much on making money and buying things.
Maintain a wide variety of friendships, and don’t spend too much time alone.
Cultivate gratitude and forgiveness, including forgiveness towards yourself.
Don’t try to feel great all the time — that’s not the way life works.”
My take: The conventional (academic) wisdom underrates money, status, sex, and marriage. [Could it be that academics do not always get these goods, and thus hope to manage their expectations and feel better about their failures?] As pure “ends in themselves,” they can be a mixed bag. But if you can pursue them in a meaningful way, enjoy the process, and meet with relative success…well…you won’t forget Oscar Wilde: “The only thing worse than being famous is not being famous,” etc.
Here is Michael’s full post, replete with useful happiness links at the end.