Saturday, April 07, 2007

Hedonic Happiness

In a variant of the trope that mood is completely unrelated to material wellbeing, comes The Science of Lasting Happiness.

Before getting to the meat of the article, there are some bits guaranteed to exercise your gag reflex:

The day I meet Sonja Lyubomirsky, she keeps getting calls from her Toyota Prius dealer. When she finally picks up, she is excited by the news: she can buy the car she wants in two days. Lyubomirsky wonders if her enthusiasm might come across as materialism, but I understand that she is buying an experience as much as a possession. The hybrid will be gentler on the environment, and a California state law letting some hybrids use the carpool lane promises a faster commute between her coastal Santa Monica home and her job at the University of California, Riverside, some 70 miles inland.

Gentler on the environment than, say, actually carpooling in the carpool lane? Or, perhaps, moving 60 miles closer to work?

Further proving AOG's conclusion that for liberals, it is all about intent and feelings.

Done retching? Good.

There is a point to be had, though. When faced with a change in our material circumstances,

We tend to adapt, quickly returning to our usual level of happiness. The classic example of such "hedonic adaptation" comes from a 1970s study of lottery winners, who a year after their windfall ended up no happier than nonwinners. Hedonic adaptation helps to explain why even changes in major life circumstances--such as income, marriage, physical health and where we live--do so little to boost our overall happiness. Not only that, but studies of twins and adoptees have shown that about 50 percent of each person's happiness is determined from birth. This "genetic set point" alone makes the happiness glass look half empty, because any upward swing in happiness seems doomed to fall back to near your baseline.

What of the remainder? Apparently, becoming more or less wealthy, getting that Prius, or discovering how much replacement batteries cost, accounts for a lasting 10% change in mood. The 40% left on the table has "unknown" stamped in big red letters all over it. Clearly, no experimental psychologist can be expected to stand for long next to that word, so it must be the portion left to the mood's owner to control.

Based upon personal experience -- I have gone through several significant changes in material circumstances since 9/11, including, at one point, an 80% reduction in income while I hurled satellite dishes at the sides of houses in the midst of the kind of Michigan winter to have completely escaped Gore's notice -- I agree that my happiness was not particularly affected by the changes in my material circumstances.

That correlates very well with the notion that people don't get happier as they get wealthier, which, in turn, raises the question as to why people work so hard at getting wealthier in the first place.

I put it down to stress reduction.

I'm no happier now than I was being a dish dude, but I'm nowhere near as close to blowing an aneurysm.


Blogger Duck said...

C'mon, you're not happier flying cargo jets across the glove than you were bolting satellite dishes to chimneys? Not even a little?

April 08, 2007 10:01 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

That shoud read "across the globe".

April 08, 2007 10:01 AM  
Blogger David said...

Actually, I thought that first quote was quite profound, and perhaps even life-changing. It's not materialism that I object to, it's experientialism.

April 08, 2007 2:02 PM  
Blogger David said...

Skipper: Are you at all torn by the Democratic proposal that the State of Michigan buy an MP3 player for every school child in the state? On the one hand, they're setting new idiocy records. On the other, more business for you.

April 08, 2007 2:07 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


Actually, no.

I have a great deal more job satisfaction, and far less economic stress.

Both good things, both make my life more enjoyable.

But not much more than 10% happier.

It is a little hard to explain, except to say that happiness is just one element of a person's overall, umm, zeitgeist.

Which means I can vastly prefer this zeitgeist to the other, but not particularly on account of happiness.

BTW -- I just got to Anchorage today with my family for a week of house hunting. That, and the impending several months of lifestyle 52-card pick up may mean I will occasionally have a very low profile around here.

April 08, 2007 9:38 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


Hadn't heard of it.

On the face of it though, it sounds like the stupidest thing I have ever heard of that doesn't involve stilts and quicksand.

April 08, 2007 9:39 PM  

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