Feb 012010

Source: “Authentic Happiness,” Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D., Chapter 5

Martin Seligman proposes a formula for happiness: H=S+C+V.

Enduring level of Happiness =
Set range + life Circumstances + factors under Voluntary control

H – Enduring level of Happiness

Enduring happiness is not the same as momentary happiness, which can spring from a wide range of positive, but transient events. Increasing these momentary pleasures have no enduring effect on enduring happiness.

In repeated studies of identical twins, fraternal twins, and adopted children, demonstrate that about half of all personality traits can be attributed to genetic inheritance. While some of these heritable traits are rather firmly fixed, some are remarkably malleable.

S – Set range

Traits which are inherited and more fixed establish a “set range” of what is normal or typical for each person. They define areas that may serve as barriers to increased happiness.

Lottery winners study

A study of major lottery winners found that most returned to their previous levels and styles of happiness within one year. On the other hand, the effect also works in reverse, with people usually recovering after adversity.

Quadriplegia study

Even people who become quadriplegics and experience a period of depression usually recover their more-positive mood within months.

Hedonic Treadmill

The concept of a hedonic treadmill describes people who, like lottery winners, begin to take good things for granted. They can begin seeking greater and greater stimulus events, trying to create the feel of an increased enduring happiness out of repeated transient experiences.

In contrast, severe tragedies such as death of loved ones and produce long-term decreases in happiness.

C – life Circumstances

Changed circumstances can sometimes contribute to enduring happiness.

Impacts of money, marriage, social life, negative emotion, health, education, climate, race, gender, religion.

Intractable poverty and other enduring negative circumstances can directly produce higher levels of unhappiness and depression. However, once a certain level of perceived basic needs are met, improving circumstances no longer reliably produce emotional satisfaction. Security is important to happiness; wealth is not.

Marital satisfaction is clearly related to happiness. However, unhappy people may be less likely to become married or stay married. Satisfying romantic and social relationships are also reliably related to reported happiness. It is still unclear that one causes the other.

The mere existence of unhappy situations and negative emotions does not intrinsically deny a person joy. Women tend to experience greater levels of emotion, both positive and negative, than men. Although they experience twice as much depression as men, they also experience more frequent and more intense positive emotions.

Younger people, evidently often report carefree and youthful “fun” as happiness. A close examination indicates that life satisfaction tends to increase with age while extremes of emotional intensity moderate.

Factors such as education, climate, race, and gender do not directly and reliably correlate with sustained happiness.

The exercise of religious faith, and the social support that it often provides, often removes adherents from certain negative life circumstances. This has a noticeable but not reliable protective effect on happiness. The element of increased hope maybe the most significant beneficial factor: increasing happiness and reducing despair.

Increasing Happiness: The Bottom Line

The most influential effects on long-term happiness include: living in a wealthy democracy; having a satisfying marriage; avoiding events that overtly produce negative emotions; developing a social network; embracing a hopeful spiritual path.

Disappointingly ineffective effects on long-term happiness include: materialistic pursuits beyond basic needs; immoderate pursuit of health; pursuit of advanced education; cosmetic surgery; geographic moves.