I’ve managed to reach Week 3 of the free Yale Happiness Course (it was 50/50 that I’d quit by now), and I’ve been pleasantly surprised so far. I like to think that I’ve read most of these “happiness” tips, but there were several new bits that were new to me. The “rewirement” activities have also been helpful in improving my mood, albeit only temporarily for now. It’s almost like putting on “happiness” sunscreen, where the protection lasts for a few hours but tends to fade away. (Must reapply regularly via gratitude journal!)

As if in direct response to my curiosity regarding their Happiness Test Questions, this week addressed most of the missing question topics (I didn’t look ahead, promise!). Here are just a few selected examples from the course slideshow and video materials.

Money. If you ask someone making $40k a year what income they think would make them happy, they’ll say $60k a year. But if you ask someone making $60k a year what income they think would make them happy, they’ll say $100k a year. Ask someone making $100k a year what income they think would make them happy, they’ll say $250k a year.

This chart includes a few different ways to approximate “happiness”: having a positive affect, not being blue, and not being stressed. The charts all show that the overall trend is that higher income does make a difference at lower levels, but the effect mostly wears off as you get to higher incomes above roughly $75k in todays dollars.

Although this new study shows happiness increasing past $75k/year, the overall curve still behaves similarly – as your income grows the incremental increase in happiness from more become smaller and smaller.

Physical Beauty. A study showed that people who entered a weight-loss program and lost weight actually ended up more depressed than those that didn’t lose weight. In fact, every group tended to feel worse after finishing the program, possibly because they all had to focus on how unsatisfied they were with their weight.

Marriage. A study found that there was a temporary bump in happiness in the couple of years before getting married through a couple of years after getting married, but after that you pretty much return to your previous level of happiness. Marriage by itself doesn’t seem to keep you happy forever.

Awesome Stuff. If only my problems could be solved by clicking on “Add to Cart”.

Life Happens, or “Luck”. You find yourself permanently disabled from a car accident. You win the lottery. The book The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky looks at the research and makes the case that only 10% of your overall happiness is dictated by your life circumstances.

People do tend to have a “happiness thermostat”, but it is not everything:

Our intentional, effortful activities have a powerful effect on how happy we are, over and above the effects of our set points and the circumstances in which we find themselves. – Sonja Lyubomirsky

Bottom line. These things most likely will make you happier to some extent or at least temporarily, they just aren’t the final answer. Got a higher-paying job? Great, but you’ll probably want even better one very soon. If all you want is money, you’ll never have enough money. If all you want is physical beauty, you’ll never feel beautiful enough. If you think stuff will make you happy, you’ll never have enough stuff. How can we get to “enough”?

Another observation is that money/beauty/stuff/couplehood is easily displayed on social media, which pushes us even further way from “enough”. Someone on your feed will always appear to have more money, be more beautiful, own cooler stuff, or be in the perfect relationship. The truly important things are harder to show off. Being absorbed in your daily activities and being able to spend time on the things you find important. Loving others and feeling loved back. Feeling yourself to be valuable. Feeling grateful for what you already have. Feeling supported by your relationships.

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Happiness Illusions: 5 Surprising Things That Don’t Make You As Happy As You Think from My Money Blog.


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