Be Happy

16 Mar

Seth: Ray probably doesn’t know this, but his last post, Musée du Louvre, was our 199th post. That makes this our 200th! We are a celebratory people, and I thought we should celebrate this symbol of longevity with a special post of some sort. I looked at current events and thought about writing about the U.S. Congress’ healthcare reform efforts, the new National Broadband Plan proposed yesterday by the FCC that will take the U.S. out of the dark ages of internet (people are still selling dial-up in 2010!!! – how ridiculous!!!) or about something else significant and impactful. While perusing the web, I ran across an article in The New Yorker (read whole article here) about happiness research. Yes, that’s research into what makes people happy. What’s interesting about the research is it never suggests that what we think makes people happy (money, possessions, standards of living) actually does.

In 1978, one of the earliest and most significant contributions to that body of research  was begun. The study was centered on a group of lottery jackpot winners and those who recently suffered traumatic accidents that significantly downgraded their quality of life. There was a control group who experienced neither of the aforementioned incidents, and researchers were surprised that the lottery winners were no more happy with their lives than anyone else. This is surprising to me as well, as I’d assume myself to be happier if I had a few extra million dollars in my bank account – and that’s just the problem.

If I won a jackpot of say $50,000 I might go on a nice trip, pay down my mortgage, put some in savings and give to good causes, but I wouldn’t drastically change my lifestyle. The amount of money needed to drastically change my lifestyle – and sustain that change – is quite high, especially considering my young age. Research even shows that more realistic changes in one’s life (the article’s examples are having kids, moving to California and getting  raise) don’t have an effect on one’s happiness. This line from the researchers is key: “People routinely mispredict how much pleasure or displeasure future events will bring.

The focus of that phrase for people needs to be on the displeasure side. It seems that generally, we think we will suffer more displeasure from life events than we actually will. That said: live a little. Take some risks, go out on a limb, do something new. It turns out that you really don’t know what’s best for you after all.

I think this is the perfect way to celebrate Seth and Ray’s 200th. We could all be a little more happy.

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