Fame, fortune, power, glory… you’d think humans chase after these because they guarantee happiness. But research says otherwise – these are shortlived indicators of a person’s sense of happiness and well-being. Even winning a lottery only creates an ‘artificial happiness’ for a few months, found Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert who studied lottery winners; after that, you go back to being as content or discontent as you were before!
In his new book The Art of Clear Thinking, author Rolf Dobelli writes, “People who progress in their careers are, in terms of happiness, right back where they started after three months.” This he says is the ‘hedonic treadmill’: we work hard, earn more, have a better lifestyle, and are yet only as happy or sad as we were earlier. Both jubilant and tragic events cause only a temporary blip in our emotional radar. It evens out after a while, and we go back to our default level of life satisfaction.
The key to longer lasting mental happiness, says Dobelli, lies in conscious decisions to avoid negative activities and circumstances, and actively go for joyful ones. If you hate your long commute to work or the high noise level in your neighbourhood, chances are, you will never get used to it, and it will continue to sap your energy and happiness. Instead, he says, invest on your passions in life even if it costs you a portion of your income.
It’s also vital to invest in friendships, more so for women. Studies from Harvard, UCLA and other universities have found that the more friends a woman has, the longer—and healthier—she could be expected to live. In fact, not hanging out with friends is considered as detrimental to one’s health as smoking or obesity. For most people, says Dobelli, professional status achieves long-lasting happiness only if they don’t change peer groups at the same time.
So go ahead and work your toned bottom off in chase of a material nirvana, but make sure you get plenty of fun and friendship along the way. Else, the trophy may ring hollow.
First published in the December 2013 issue of Prevention magazine