Taking Happiness Research Seriously

Will Wilkinson surveys the literature on happiness research, and comes to this conclusion:

It seems that there is almost nothing one can do to significantly and permanently alter one's natural temperamental disposition to happiness.

[...]

If you're on good terms with your family, have close friends and meaningful work, you're probably doing about as well as you're going to do.


All this implies that any form of happiness-consequentialism is pretty much useless as anything more than a very brute standard of evaluation.
[...]
But if we take the happiness research seriously, almost nothing has much effect on anyone's long-term happiness.

(emphasis added)

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There have been some

There have been some positive findings in the happiness research. What I've heard that sounds promising is perspective related. Here's one of many articles I've come accross related to possitive effects of gratitude:

http://www.livejournal.com/users/crasch/294552.html

For a little anecdotal evidence, I've been keeping a gratitude log for over a year now, and my perspective and happiness have changed rather dramatically in that time. I of course do not know what percentage of this change is due to the log, but in the least I do find it helpful for altering my moods at times.

As with happiness, there is also evidence that perspective is correlated with luck, and that it is possible to change not only your perception of your luck, but now well you utilize your opportunities:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/3335275.stm

I have to disagree from

I have to disagree from personal experience. My own happiness is much higher than it used to be, largely because of conscious changes I've made to my mental outlook.

I do want to stress that

I do want to stress that "almost nothing" is consistent with keeping gratitude journals and choosing to be in a better frame of mind. Part of the point is that the sort of person who decides to start a gratitude journal or who decides to buck up and look on the bright side was probably going to be all right, one way or another, anyway.

Part of the point is that

Part of the point is that the sort of person who decides to start a gratitude journal or who decides to buck up and look on the bright side was probably going to be all right, one way or another, anyway.

But these people still need to do *something* in order to buck up. Without that something, they are unhappy. With that something, they are happier. Isn't it worthwhile figuring out what those things are, and which of them help the most people?

If youâ??re on good terms with your family, have close friends and meaningful work, youâ??re probably doing about as well as youâ??re going to do.

But knowing that those three things are important is surely a useful finding of happiness research, People who don't have all those things now have an idea about what they are missing.

Another good example of event-related happiness is becoming a parent, especially for women. The presence or absence of a family can have a dramatic effect on long-term happiness.

I agree that happiness is fairly robust, and genes have a big influence. But our choices and lifestyles are part of the equation too.

Will- As someone who was

Will-

As someone who was generally unhappy for years and eventually started to keep a gratitude journal and take other steps to combat high anxiety and depression and change my point of view, I disagree.

This took a long time, a lot of focus, and a lot of effort to bear fruit, I do not the change either something that would naturally happen to do with my personality type or insignificant.

I recommend the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi if you get a chance.

As with any topic, the majority of things written about happiness probably aren't the greatest, but that does not mean that there aren't good things out there. Psychology in particular has a lot potential of wrong trees to bark up.

I second the recommendation

I second the recommendation of "Flow".

I also disagree with the conclusion that it's hard to adjust long-term happiness. I was a very unhappy college student. Then I had a fun internship. Then I was an unhappy college student again. And wouldn't you know it, finishing school and joining the "real world" permanently has made me much, much happier.

Environment has a huge impact. I realized it, and changed mine.