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Motivate Yourself 100 - 104: Happiness

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As it's my 100th podcast episode today I've decided to produce a new episode every week in July, so make sure you visit every Monday morning to listen to the new one.

The topic for the month will be Happiness.
After all it’s something that we all strive to achieve – isn’t it?

In fact, the Government has recently realised that GDP is no longer a viable method of measuring a country’s success.
The Office for National Statistics have been tasked with asking people to rate their own well-being and have produced annual ‘personal well-being’ statistics to measure how happy we all are.

Research has already shown that once a country has a moderate level of cash the contentment of its citizens begins to drop the higher their salaries get.

As David Myers, Professor of Psychology at Hope College in Michigan once said:

“Thanks to our capacity to adapt to ever greater fame and fortune, yesterdays luxuries can soon become today’s necessities and tomorrows relics.”

This may well be down to what is called our happiness 'set point'. Just like having blonde hair and blue eyes, our happiness set point is genetically given to us at birth. But does that mean that we are destined for misery if we have inherited Granny’s miserable attitude gene?
It would appear that this is not the case because Granny may well determine only half of our set point. According to research by Sonja Lyubomirsky and Kennon Sheldon of The University Of California:

  • 50% of our happiness depends on genetic stuff
  • 10% depends on our environment
  • 40% is changeable by what they described as ‘intentional activities’.

A lot of people may find all of this difficult to believe since, if you ask most people what would improve their life then the response “More money” is usually top of the list.
The general view would be that if they were 2 stone lighter, living in a massive mansion and enormously rich then all their problems would go away - true, yes?

Well, no of course not! According to research conducted in the 70’s by Philip Brickman of Northwestern University with Illinois State Lottery winners, good fortunes in our life will only give us a temporary boost. The boost only lasts around 12 months and after that our happiness set point returns to its original level.
The psychological theory of habituation is the main cause of this effect. As David Myers said:

“... we have a tendency to get used to any positive change in our life styles and quickly start taking things for granted”.


In Lyubomirsky and Sheldon’s experiment they asked two groups of participants to measure their levels of happiness …

The first group had very recently experienced a rise in their happiness due to ‘circumstantial change’ – such as moving house or getting a pay rise.

The second group: experienced ‘intentional change’ – by changing careers or joining a local society.
The participants were then asked to continue to measure their happiness levels for several weeks.

By the end of the experiment a surprising result had emerged in that the group who had experienced ‘intentional change’ remained happier for longer.

The researchers concluded that the ‘circumstantial change’ group had suffered from ‘hedonistic habituation’ – where their familiarity with the new source of happiness meant that their positive feelings soon faded away.

In the case of the ‘intentional change’ group, the constant flood of positive emotions they’d experienced caused a much longer-lasting state of happiness.
It would seem that ‘intentional activity’ really does have the best potential to elevate people into the higher end of their happiness range.

The lesson from this research would suggest that if you want to stay happier for longer, learn to get out of your comfort zone, make some changes in your life and do something different.

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