Things That Make You Happy (Except When They Don't)

We’ve blogged repeatedly in this space about happiness. An essay in The Boston Globe describes some interesting new happiness research with diverse policy implications. In recent years, cognitive scientists have discovered that humans are not very good at predicting how events will affect future happiness: dramatic things like the loss of a limb or winning the lottery have relatively small long-term happiness effects, while the opposite is true of seemingly minor annoyances. Experts in law, public health, and housing are already debating the applications of the research. (HT: Edward Tenner) [%comments]

Nick Robinson

Or another way of expressing this might be that cognitive scientists are not very good at understanding why 'big' stuff like loosing a limb has less of an impact on happiness than 'small' stuff like the noise your neighbour makes every morning.

I personally blame you North Americans for all this confusion over happiness anyway. I'm sure Europeans used to regard happiness as a fairly random thing caused largely by events outside the control of individuals. If you were lucky, things went your way and you ended up happy. If not, well you still had to get on with life anyway.
Now, thanks to you and your constitution thingy, if we're not actively pursuing happiness and it's not coming our way, we must be doing something wrong - and are therefore unhappy!



i assume happiness, pain etc being largely social constructs. (easy to assume, think of greeks' hedonism/sparta).

than, if we will start changing social reality, changing how we rate events to be a relatively better or worse economically, politically etc, will most def change sources of pain and happiness. and make the previous research irrelevant.

one would argue that self reported happiness of population is a social construct by itself, and so a different approach/research is required if we want to see people report being happy.


The example of the heroin addict who is happy but not flourishing parallels that of part of the obese population in the U.S.

One area that happiness research should experiment with is later starting times for high schools -- more time for teens to sleep might make their lives better. Is there any research on whether teachers, students and parents are happier when students can walk to school? (Kids more alert at the start of the class day and less dependent on parents, for instance, might make parents and teachers much happier.)

And maybe we should look at work hours and schedules and either be more flexible, or, in this time of high unemployment, consider work weeks of 35 hours to be full time.