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Three Myths of Happiness

In recent years, happiness has become an increasingly popular topic in the field of psychology.  But as many researchers have found, it is a tricky topic to study. Happiness is easily misread, difficult to measure, and often created by counter-intuitive actions.

One researcher at the University of California Riverside, Professor  Sonja Lyubomirsky, has made some significant strides towards understanding what makes us happy.

In her book, “The How of Happiness” she creates an interesting and somewhat counter-intuitive guide to understanding what happiness is – and what it isn’t – based on her cognitive research of thousands of individuals.

To start, her research suggests that 50% of our happiness is set based on our genes, 10% is based on life circumstances and 40% is based on intentional decision we make. So while 60% of our happiness is out of our control, 40% is in our control… and yet many of the decision we make do not align with increasing our happiness. And to compound that problem, many of the expectations of society (i.e., societal social norms) push us towards a path that actually decreases happiness.

For example, according to Lyubomirsky:

  1. Homeowners are less happy than renters.  Contrary to popular beliefs about the “American dream,” researchers have found that homeowners are less happy than renters, derive more pain from their homes, and spend more time on housework and less time interacting with their friends and neighbors.
  2. People who are more highly educated are less satisfied with their lives. The enhanced life satisfaction that we might derive from our advanced degrees appears to be outweighed by our increased aspirations and their attendant risk of disappointment and regret.
  3. The old are happier than the young. The media tends to portray 20 and 30 year olds as the pinnacle of life exuberance, fun and happiness and yet, Lyubomirsky finds, “Our happiness peaks at age 65. A 22-year study of about 2,000 healthy veterans of World War II and the Korean War revealed that life satisfaction increased over the course of these men’s lives, peaked at age 65, and didn’t start significantly declining until age 75.”

In general, much of what Lyubrmirsky found is that life is less about things or accomplishments and much more about the journey, the experiences, friendships, and mindset. So the next time you have a choice between buying the latest fancy gadget or an outing with family or friends, go with the people. And when you are thinking about your next job, focus on the vacation time, flexibility and office culture not just the salary, title and position. We all desire happiness, but it is often difficult to see the cause and effect. What often times seems like an obvious benefit many times is just a short term jolt that quickly fades away.

Thinking back on your life what has made you happiest? I’d love to hear your thoughts whether they agree or disagree with the findings, please comment below.

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