I think if we’re being honest, we would all like to be, just a little bit happier. In this article I will talk about 5 studies on the Psychology of happiness and 5 important lessons we can learn from them. So without further ado, let’s jump right in.
Study One: Money does make us happy ..but only up to the point of $75,000.
You have probably heard it said many time before, that “Money doesn’t buy happiness”, but how true is this really? Well as it turns out, money does in fact correlate quite strongly with overall levels of happiness, but only up to a point.
In 2010 the researchers Deaton and Kahneman investigated the relationship between income and happiness, analyzing data from over 1000 US residents from the Gallup-Healthways Wellbeing Index. One of the key findings of the study was that emotional wellbeing (how happy we feel on a day-to-day basis) increases with annual income up to the point of $75,000 a year, after which the correlation disappears.
Now whilst the exact figure in question can be debated, it seems to be the case that once we have enough to buy the essentials in life (food, clothing, housing) any more money is simply surplus to the requirements for a happy life. Someone who earns $100,000 a year is unlikely to be any happier than someone earning $200,000.
Key lesson: When making important decisions in life, such as what career to pursue or what subject to choose at college, realize that how much money you earn, may not be as important as you once thought, in regards to living a happy life.
Study Two: Often what we think will make us happy, fails to do so.
I want you to consider the following scenario. Imagine what your life would be like and how you feel, if tomorrow you were to wake up a lottery winner. Do you imagine you would be happy beyond your wildest dreams? Well you might be, for a while, but a number of studies have demonstrated that as human beings, we adapt very quickly, to the hand we’re dealt in life.
In a famous study, carried out in 1978, the researchers Brickman, Coates and Bulman interviewed lottery winners, non lottery winners and paraplegic victims on how happy they felt with their lives. The study produced 2 interesting results, firstly, contrary to expectations, the lottery winners were no significantly happier than those who had not won a single penny. Secondly, even though the group of paraplegics were slightly less happy than the lottery winners, the difference was much less than you might imagine.
Key lesson: Often in life the things that we imagine will bring us joy, don’t make us as happy as we would have hoped. If we spend our lives chasing the things that we think will lead to happiness, we are likely to end up disappointed. Perhaps then, happiness doesn’t come from lottery wins or work promotions, but rather in appreciating what we have right here, right now.
Study Three: The happiest people are the ones who focus on the happiness of others.
Earlier I talked about the relationship between money and happiness, however it might be the case that how we spend our money, may be just as important, as to how much we have to spend.
In a study carried out by Dunn, Atkin and Norton (2008), undergraduate students were presented with an envelope containing either a $5 or a $20 bill. By the end of the day the students had to spend the money on either themselves or a gift for another person. They were also asked to rate their general mood at both the start and end of the day.
What the researchers found, was that those who spent the money on another person rather than themselves, reported a more positive and happy mood later that evening. Interestingly, people often make affective forecasting errors; they assume spending the money on themselves would lead to more happiness, even though as we just saw, they would be wrong.The happiest people are the ones, who focus on the happiness of others. Click To Tweet
Key lesson: Over the next week try to do something nice for someone else every day. Whether it’s buying a homeless person a cup of coffee or treating a friend to lunch. You may be surprised at how good it makes you feel.
Study Four: Deep, meaningful relationships are the key to a happy life.
In this enlightening Ted Talk, Dr Robert Waldinger talks us through some of the key findings from the largest study to date, on happiness. Over a period of 75 years the “Grant and Glueck” study has examined the lives of 268 Harvard Graduates and 456 men born in the inner city of Boston.
I have linked to the full talk but the key finding is this; meaningful social relationships keep us both happier and healthier in old age. Not only do positive relationships keep us psychological healthier as we grow old, but they seem to act as a buffer against physical illness and memory decline.
Furthermore it is not the number of Facebook friends or Twitter followers we have that matters, but rather the trust that exists within the relationship we do form. In fact it may be true that staying in toxic relationships has a worse effect on our health and wellbeing, than simply getting divorced.
Key lesson: We all know that love and friendship is an important part of life, but this study demonstrates how the relationships we form may play a larger role than we perhaps realized. Holding onto bitter grudges causes nothing but harm so pick up the phone, and call that friend, whom you haven’t spoken to in far too long.
5) Having less choice, may actually make us happier.
As I have written about in a previous article, we live in a world full of choice. Often we are lead to believe that the more options we have to pick from, the happier we will be with our decisions. However, a study carried out by Gilbert and Elbert in 2002, contradicts this widely held belief.
In this study, participants volunteered to take part in a photography course in which they would also learn how to use a dark-room. At the end of the course each student would produce two photographic prints, but would only be allowed to keep one. Now in the first group, the students were given several days in which to change their mind about which print they would ultimately keep. However in the second group, the budding photographers had to keep whichever print they initially chose. The students would then be contacted at a later date, to rate how satisfied they were with their final print.
This experiment produced two interesting findings. Firstly, the majority of the students were significantly happier with their chosen print, when the option to change their mind was removed.
However, what do you think happened when students were asked to predict which condition would lead to a higher level of happiness? The majority wrongly predicted, that being able to change their mind about the print they picked, would lead to them being more satisfied with their decision.
Key lesson: I think the key lesson here is that rather than trying to constantly keep every door open in life, we should learn to commit. Indeed this study seems to have implications for almost every area of life, ranging from what career we choose to whom we marry. The evidence suggest that when we pick an option and stick with it, we are ultimately happier for it.