On happiness

What is the secret to being happy? Because our society values material possessions over many things, one could mistakenly assume that wealth leads to well-being. Although fortune might bring short-term pleasure, research shows that one will return to his or her usual level of happiness—without much impact on the person’s overall attitude—even after a gain in wealth.

According to psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky (2001), our inborn genetic set-point, or usual level of happiness we mostly stay at, accounts for around 50% of our happiness. Ten percent is due to circumstances, and about 40% comes from what the individual can influence. It is important to keep in mind, though, that this percentage isn’t scientifically exact—according to journalist Eric Weiner, one’s notion of happiness may be culturally constructed.

Myers and Dieners (1995) were two of the first researchers to prove that there is no direct link between an increase in wealth and happiness. Although the purchasing power of the average American has tripled since 1950, the number who describe themselves as very happy remained stable at about one-third of the population. Hagerty (2003) also studied the relationship between wealth and happiness by comparing data from the US and seven other countries. He was able to find that happiness was positively correlated with the equality of distribution of wealth in the country.  The average level of life satisfaction increased within a particular country as the inequality of income decreased. This relationship can be explained by the Social Comparison Theory, which states that people have a tendency to compare themselves to others, which could possibly lead to dissatisfaction. Johnson and Kruger (2006) support this idea, agreeing that one’s salary does not matter in determining happiness, but satisfaction with it does.

To place these findings in more familiar situations, it is helpful to discuss specific countries that take this different approach to happiness. Bhutan, for example, although very poor has a government that is not focused on productivity, efficiency, and money, but is motivated on preserving the unique nature of its culture. This is probably one of the reasons why the king of Bhutan introduced the term “gross national happiness,” in contrast to “gross national product,” to measure the country’s progress. The king believes that the ultimate purpose of life is inner happiness, and is committed to developing Bhutan so that the country’s progress is related to the pursuit of happiness.

While Bhutan attempts to promote a lifestyle of happiness, Denmark actually accomplishes it as the happiest country in the world, with more than two-thirds of Danes classifying themselves as “very satisfied” with their lives. Researchers point to the fact that Denmark has the highest level of income equality as a probable reason for this. However, another factor may be that Danes do not have particularly high expectations about the future, and therefore aren’t disappointed easily. Through countries’ different experiences, it is evident that happiness can be achieved successfully through different attitudes other than desiring materialistic gain.

Now that the role of financial fortune in happiness is clearer, what might be the implications of these findings? The conclusions should prompt us to reevaluate the ways in which we try to seek happiness, or they at least motivate us to reflect upon our own lifestyle. As the saying goes, money can’t buy happiness. Keep this in mind when celebrating International Happiness Day this month on the 20th, or when deciding how you’ll achieve satisfaction as you move forward in life.


Source: today.com