Why has happiness alluded so many people? It’s because we think we know what will lead to happiness, but psychological scientists show we are often off base. If we’re off base much of the time, are we leading our kids down the right path? We all want our kids to be happy, so let’s make sure we know the right way to go about it.
Most of us believe positive events, wealth, fame, and beauty will lead to lasting happiness. We get messages to this effect everyday in the media. However, these things affect a shockingly small percentage of our actual level of happiness.
According to happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, in her book The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, the truth is that money does bring some happiness, but it’s only a little bit for a short time, not a lot of happiness for a long time. One study showed that the richest Americans are only slightly happier than blue collar workers.
This fleeting happiness is due to a concept called hedonic habituation, which basically means that we get used to change quickly, and what once felt novel quickly becomes the norm. You can probably think of a time you felt thrilled initially and then quickly got used to it, i.e. moving to a new house, getting a promotion, a pay raise, or a makeover. It feels great at first, and then after a relatively short time you adapt. In a classic study in the 1970’s tracking lottery winners, less than a year after receiving their windfall, most winners felt no happier than the average Joe.
Research also shows that life circumstances; rich or poor, married or single, beautiful or ordinary, actually have little bearing on our level of happiness. Scientists estimate that a shockingly low 10% of our happiness is derived from these sorts of circumstances.
Happiness is like a pie