The challenge of making happiness last
One of the hallmarks of being human, it seems, is that tendency to always want more – no matter how much we have. Now scientists studying this phenomenon have found that the stronger it is, the more fleeting is our ability to find, and maintain, happiness as a state of being.
Think of the adage, “Happiness isn’t getting what you want, but wanting what you get.” We might experience a boost of happiness when beneficial changes happen in our lives, but sadly, most of us don’t sustain that feeling for long. Happiness researcher Kennon Sheldon of the University of Missouri said his team has developed a model “to help people maintain higher levels of happiness derived from beneficial changes.”
The model, he says, consists of two major components: the need to keep having new and positive life-changing experiences and the need to keep appreciating what you already have and not want more too soon.
In Sheldon’s study, 481 people were interviewed people about their happiness level. Six weeks later they identified one positive change in their lives that had made them happier. Then, six weeks after that, the participants were evaluated on whether their happiness boost had lasted. While some reported that it had, for most it had not.
What happened to most of the subjects who lost their elevated sense of happiness?
They stopped being satisfied because they kept wanting more and raising their standards. They didn’t savor the happiness experience. For example, the new Volkswagen owner is thrilled with his purchase … until he pulls into his driveway only to see the Joneses next door have a brand-new Lexus.
It seems that each of us is born with a certain “set-point” of happiness which is our default level. That’s why some of tend to have effusively cheerful personalities and others are more serious. The good news is, we can train ourselves to stay at the top of our individual preset range of happiness every day.
Sheldon says his model is designed to do just that.
The secret is not in the acquisition of that next great thing that creates happiness – it is in experiencing that “new great thing” anew every day, and appreciating it for what it can bring into our lives.
The website actionforhappiness.org takes this idea and explores it further, offering a positive action plan we can adopt to enhance and maintain our level of day-to-day happiness and well-being. According to the website, “Positive emotions - like joy, gratitude, contentment, inspiration, and pride – are not just great at the time. Recent research shows that regularly experiencing them creates an 'upward spiral,' helping to build our resources.”
In other words, it really IS possible to train ourselves into a higher level of happiness – and, like every other training program, more frequent practice will bring success.
What is your secret to lasting happiness?
“The Challenge of Staying Happier: Testing the Hedonic Adaptation Prevention Model,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2012
“10 Keys to Happier Living,” actionforhappiness.org