Be Happier

by [anonymous]34 min read16th Apr 2012278 comments



This started as an assignment to find out about the science of ‘buying happiness’ (using money to become happier) — hence the emphasis on money-and-happiness. I learned a great deal more than how to buy happiness, however, and the project became somewhat more generalized. It is not meant to be comprehensive, but perhaps it makes for a useful supplement to Luke’s How to be Happy. This post consists mostly of quoted material.

In A Nutshell

Money and Happiness

  • Spend on others, especially people you are close to. Positive feedback loop: Prosocial spending makes you happier, and happiness makes you more likely to spend prosocially.
  • Don’t be stingy. It's bad for your health.
  • Don’t think too much about money. It will impair your savoring ability. It's also bad for your family life.
  • Be time-aware, but don’t think of time in terms of money.
  • Being richer will not necessarily make you happier.
  • Do not live in wealthy enclaves.
  • Avoid conspicuous consumption.

Work Satisfaction

  • Coping with Stress: React pragmatically rather than emotionally.
  • Go for ‘approach’ goals instead of ‘avoid’ goals.
  • Autonomy: Make a point of prefering autonomous goals rather than heteronomous goals (goals imposed by others).
  • Autonomy: Make sure you have spare discretionary time — even at financial cost.
  • Be passionate, but don’t obsess.
  • Do work that you enjoy doing. Flow.
  • Set goals that are reasonably challenging and reasonably achievable.

Materialism and Purchasing

  • Prefer experiential purchases; avoid materialistic goals.
  • Keep your goals intrinsic.
  • Don’t do ‘comparison shopping.’ And don’t place much stock in the happiness potential of any one positive change.
  • Follow the herd. “The best way to predict how much we will enjoy an experience is to see how much someone else enjoyed it.”


  • Socialize with close others.
  • Associate with happy people.
  • Give the people around you opportunities to be generous. Ask them for favors.
  • Be actively kind (and occasionaly reminisce about your recent acts of kindness).

Stretching Happiness (fighting hedonic adaptation)

  • Go for smaller, more frequent successes rather than larger ones.
  • Go for variety and surprise. Don’t keep doing the same thing.
  • Savor anticipation. Delay consumption. Actively anticipate good experiences.
  • Divide positive experiences into smaller pleasures, if possible.
  • Corollary: Conclude negative experiences as soon as possible.
  • Make a point of avoiding experiences that make you feel bad.


  • Be grateful and count your blessings (literally). Recycle happiness by reminiscing about good experiences.
  • Think of counterfactuals. (“If I didn’t have this positive thing, what do I lose?”)
  • Breathe deeply. Expand your time — by slowing down.
  • Stay in the present.

Optimal Happification

  • Actively want to be happier. Motivation and investment matter.
  • Learn about the science of happiness. Internalize the lessons in this article and in here.

Some Key Terms

  • Subjective Well Being (SWB) aka happiness.
  • Hedonic Adaptation — the phenomenon of (rapidly) diminishing positive or negative affect from any one experience or thing.
  • Hedonic treadmill — the phenomenon of neverending aspirations for materialistic acquisitions that results from hedonic adaptation.

Money and Happiness

Spend on others, especially people you are close to.

Past research in our lab has repeatedly shown that people are happier when they use financial resources to benefit others rather than themselves [Aknin, Dunn, Sandstrom & Norton, submitted, 1,14].
... findings suggest that to reap the greatest emotional reward from spending on someone else, one should direct their purchases to close others
These findings should not be taken to suggest that people should avoid spending on weak social ties. Indeed, treating an acquaintance from yoga to a coffee after class might help to build a new strong tie. Thus, spending money on a weak social tie might help facilitate the development of new strong ties in the longer term.
… research on reciprocal altruism and the evolution of cooperation demonstrates that people ultimately benefit from behaving generously and cooperatively toward individuals with whom they are likely to interact in the future
The current results […] shed novel insight into translating spending choices into happiness: the next time you find a few spare dollars in your pocket, you will be happiest if you treat your best friend.

(Aknin, Sandstrom, Dunn, & Norton, 2011b)

This research also supports the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions by demonstrating that higher levels of happiness may expand an individual’s mindset to include thoughts of others.

(Ahuvia, 2002)

... prosocial spending may be particularly promising route to prosocial behavior because it has been shown to increase happiness immediately after spending (Dunn et al. 2008, 2010) and later upon reflection, as demonstrated here.
... how money is spent may matter more than how much money is spent. That is, participants who recalled spending on others felt happier than those who spent money on themselves, and the benefits of prosocial spending were the same regardless of whether they spent $100 or just $20. Recent work suggests that prosocial behavior leads to emotional gains by providing opportunities for positive social contact (Aknin et al. 2011b); therefore, prosocial spending should promote happiness if the spending opportunity fosters positive relations with others, which may be largely independent of the specific amount of money spent. (Aknin, Dunn, & Norton, 2011a)
... participants assigned to spend a small windfall on someone else by purchasing a gift or making a donation to charity (prosocial spending) were significantly happier at the end of the day than participants assigned to spend the same size windfall by paying for a bill, expense, or gift for themselves (personal spending)

(Aknin, Dunn, & Norton, 2011a)

Positive feedback loop:

Taken together, our results show that
(a) recalling a past prosocial spending experience leads to higher levels of happiness,
(b) higher levels of happiness increase the likelihood of engaging in prosocial spending, and
(c) recalling a past experience of prosocial spending increases the likelihood of spending a new windfall on others to the extent that happiness levels are elevated in the interim. This suggests that spending money on others may be self-reinforcing as long as this prosocial experience provides happiness.

(Aknin, Dunn, & Norton, 2011a)

Being generous will make you happier.

experiments within two very different countries (Canada and Uganda) […] show that spending money on others has a consistent, causal impact on happiness.
In contrast to traditional economic thought—which places self-interest as the guiding principle of human motivation—our findings suggest that the reward experienced from helping others may be deeply ingrained in human nature, emerging in diverse cultural and economic contexts.
[In both] Canada and Uganda — [which] differ dramatically in national-level income and donation frequency, we find that individuals report significantly greater well-being after reflecting on a time when they spent money on others rather than themselves. This effect emerged consistently across these two cultures, even though the specific prosocial spending experiences participants described differed considerably. Thus, although prosocial spending differs in both frequency (Study 1) and form (Study 2) in poor versus wealthy countries, its emotional consequences are remarkably consistent.

(Aknin et al., 2010)

we found that spending more of one’s income on others predicted greater happiness both cross-sectionally (in a nationally representative survey study) and longitudinally (in a field study of windfall spending). Finally, participants who were randomly assigned to spend money on others experienced greater happiness than those assigned to spend money on themselves.

(Dunn, Aknin, & Norton, 2008)

...prosocial spending is consistently associated with greater happiness.
The robustness of this mechanism is supported by our finding that people seem to experience emotional benefits from sharing their financial resources with others not only in countries where such resources are plentiful, but also in impoverished countries where scarcity might seem to limit the possibilities to reap the gains from giving to others.

(Aknin et al., 2010)

Don't be Stingy.

Aside from the positive effect of generosity on your own happiness, stinginess makes you less healthy; it is easier to be happy when you are healthy.

The present research suggests that stingy economic behavior can produce a feeling of shame, which in turn drives secretion of the stress hormone cortisol.
... the present research provides support for Social Self-Preservation Theory, which posits that acute threats to the ‘social self’ induce shame and lead to increased cortisol, as part of a coordinated response to social threats (Dickerson, Gruenewald, & Kemeny, 2004a).
Our findings provide initial, suggestive evidence that shame and cortisol represent plausible emotional and biological pathways that might link everyday decisions about whether to help others with downstream consequences for one’s own health.
... stingy economic behavior predicts cortisol secretion only to the extent that stinginess provokes shame.

(Dunn et al., 2010)

Caveat: hedonic adaptation moderates the deleterious effect of bad health on well-being, but not entirely — and negative experiences are more powerful than positive experiences:

”To sum up almost two decades of research, bad is stronger than good.”

(Chancellor & Lyubomirsky, 2011)

(More on negative experiences farther down in ‘STRETCHING HAPPINESS’.)

Think about time, but don’t think of time in terms of money (“An hour of my time is worth…”).

... thinking about time in terms of money can influence how people experience pleasurable events by instigating greater impatience during unpaid time.
In three separate experiments we have demonstrated that bringing individuals’ effective hourly wage to their attention impairs the ability to derive happiness from pleasurable experiences.
One possible explanation is that impatience discourages savoring. Savoring is a form of emotional regulation which augments the happiness individuals derive from experiences (e.g. Bryant et al., 2005; Quoidbach, 2009; Tugade & Fredrickson, 2007).
... recent ethnographic research […] found that people who are paid by the hour narrowly evaluate their time use in terms of its economic returns. As a consequence, they tend to discount the worth of activities with non-economic benefits (Evans et al., 2004).
... the present findings suggest that thinking about time in terms of money is poised to affect our ability to smell the proverbial roses.

(DeVoe & House, 2012)

... there is a bi-directional relationship between the scarcity of time and its value: not only does having little time make it feel more valuable, but when time is more valuable, it is perceived as more scarce (DeVoe & Pfeffer, 2010).

(Aaker et al., 2010)

In an word priming experiment done in a cafe:

Pair-wise comparisons showed that individuals primed with time spent more of their time at the café socializing than those primed with money. Further, individuals primed with time spent less of their time working than those primed with money
Participants primed with money worked more than those in the control condition and participants primed with time worked less than those in the control condition
... participants primed with time were happier than those primed with money. […] Participants primed with time were also happier than those in the control condition [and] the happiness levels of those primed with money and those in the control condition did not differ significantly,
These results suggest that increasing the relative salience of time (vs. money) can increase happiness by leading people to behave in more connecting ways [and] can nudge someone to spend that extra hour at home rather than at the office, there finding greater happiness.
Focusing on money motivates one to work more, which is useful to know when struggling to put in that extra hour of work to meet a looming deadline. However, passing the hours working (although productive) does not translate into greater happiness. Spending time with loved ones does, and a shift in attention toward time proves an effective means to motivate this social connection.
... the relevant question may be not how much money people have, but rather how much attention people put on money.
Despite the belief that money is the resource most central to Americans’ pursuit of happiness, increased happiness requires a shift in attention toward time.

(Mogilner, 2010)

Being richer will not necessarily make you happier.

The belief that high income is associated with good mood is widespread but mostly illusory. People with above-average income are relatively satisfied with their lives but are barely happier than others in moment-to-moment experience, tend to be more tense, and do not spend more time in particularly enjoyable activities. Moreover, the effect of income on life satisfaction seems to be transient. We argue that people exaggerate the contribution of income to happiness because they focus, in part, on conventional achievements when evaluating their life or the lives of others.
The latter finding might help explain why income is more highly correlated with general life satisfaction than with experienced happiness, as tension and stress may accompany goal attainment, which in turn contributes to judgments of life satisfaction more than it does to experienced happiness.
Despite the weak relation between income and global life satisfaction or experienced happiness, many people are highly motivated to increase their income. In some cases, this focusing illusion may lead to a misallocation of time, from accepting lengthy commutes (which are among the worst moments of the day) to sacrificing time spent socializing (which are among the best moments of the day) (28, 29). An emphasis on the role of attention helps to explain both why many people seek high income—because their predictions exaggerate the increase in happiness due to the focusing illusion—and why the long- term effect of income gains become relatively small, because attention eventually shifts to less novel aspects of daily life.

(Kahneman, 2006)

It is found that higher income aspirations reduce people’s satisfaction with life. In Switzerland and the New German Laender, the negative effect of an increase in the aspiration level on well-being is of a similar absolute magnitude as the positive effect on well-being of an equal increase in income. This suggests that subjective well-being depends largely on the gap between income aspirations and actual income and not on the income level as such. the higher the ratio between aspired income and actual income, the less satisfied people are with their life, ceteris paribus. This supports the notion of a relative utility concept.

(Stutzer & Frey, 2010)

Emotional well-being also rises with log income, but there is no further progress beyond an annual income of ∼$75,000. Low income exacerbates the emotional pain associated with such misfortunes as divorce, ill health, and being alone.
[The data suggest that] above a certain level of stable income, individuals’ emotional well-being is constrained by other factors in their temperament and life circumstances.

(Kahneman & Deaton, 2010)

Pitfall of being wealthy: your ability to savor positive emotions and experiences will be impaired. Don’t make money your priority.

The present study provides the first evidence that money impairs people‘s ability to savor everyday positive emotions and experiences.
In a sample of working adults, wealthier individuals reported lower savoring ability.
... the negative impact of wealth on savoring undermined the positive effects of money on happiness.
... moving beyond self-report, participants exposed to a reminder of wealth spent less time savoring a piece of chocolate and exhibited reduced enjoyment of it. The present research supplies evidence for the previously untested notion that having access to the best things in life may actually undercut the ability to reap enjoyment from life‘s small pleasures.
In other words, one need not actually visit the pyramids of Egypt or spend a week in the legendary spas of Banff—simply knowing that these peak experiences are readily available may increase the tendency to take the small pleasures of daily life for granted.
... having access to the best things in life may actually undermine the ability to reap enjoyment from life‘s small pleasures.
... our research demonstrates that a simple reminder of wealth produces the same deleterious effects as actual wealth, suggesting that perceived access to pleasurable experiences may be sufficient to impair everyday savoring. (Quoidbach et al., 2010)
This perspective is consistent with the intriguing theoretical notion that hedonic adaptation may occur not only in response to past experiences, but also in response to anticipated future experiences (Frederick & Loewenstein, 1999).
Our studies provide a novel contribution by demonstrating that the emotional benefits that money gives with one hand (i.e., access to pleasurable experiences), it takes away with the other by undercutting the ability to relish the small delights of daily living.
... experimentally exposing participants to a reminder of wealth produced the same deleterious effect on savoring as did actual individual differences in wealth.

(Quoidbach et al., 2010)

Across nations, placing a higher importance on money is associated with lower well-being (Kirkcaldy, Furnham, & Martin, 1998).

(Diener & Seligman, 2004)

Financial aspirations are bad for family life (and the quality of interpersonal relationships is a strong predictor of happiness).

The negative consequences [of financial aspirations] were particularly severe for the domain of family life; the stronger the goal for financial success, the lower the satisfaction with family life, regardless of household income.

(Nickerson et al., 2003)

Don’t live ‘high’.

Not only materialism, but wealth itself has been found in a few studies to produce negative effects. Hagerty (2000) found that when personal income was statistically controlled, individuals living in higher-income areas in the United States were lower in happiness than people living in lower-income areas. (Diener & Seligman, 2004)
This suggests that wealthy individuals are fortunate if they live in middle-class areas rather than in wealthy enclaves.
The negative effects of wealthy communities might partly be explained by their higher materialism (Stutzer, in press).

(Diener & Seligman, 2004)

(Perhaps the more important point here is that you must surround yourself with low-materialism people, which means surrounding yourself with happy people, since materialism correlates negatively with happiness. A caveat to the advice of living in middle class areas if wealthy: the presence of a wealthy neighbor can make people more materialistic; it makes them aspire for more. A wealthy person can make his less wealthy neighbors less happy. See below.)

Avoid conspicuous consumption.

The ‘relative income hypothesis’ was formulated and econometrically tested by James Duesenberry (1949), who posited an asymmetric structure of externalities. People look upwards when making comparisons. Aspirations thus tend to be above the level already reached. Wealthier people impose a negative external effect on poorer people, but not vice versa. Fred Hirsch (1976), in his book Social Limits to Growth, emphasised the role of relative social status by calling attention to ‘positional goods’ which, by definition, cannot be augmented, because they rely solely on not being available to others. This theme was taken up by Robert Frank (1985, 1999), who argued that the production of positional goods in the form of luxuries, such as exceedingly expensive watches or yachts, is a waste of productive resources, as overall happiness is thereby decreased rather than increased.

(Frey & Stutzer, 2002)

(This relates to the recommendation to associate with happy people — farther down.)

More Recommendations


Coping with Stress: React pragmatically rather than emotionally.

Coping can be divided into two broad engagements – either to trigger the individual to approach the problem or to regulate the emotional reactions arising from the challenge at hand (Andersson & Willebrand 2003). The literature typically differentiates two broad strategies of coping (for a review, see Lazarus & Folkman 1984). First, problem-based coping refers to a cognitively-based response behaviour that includes efforts to alleviate stressful circumstances. This coping strategy includes defining the problem, generating alternative solutions, determining the costs and benefits of such solutions, and actions taken to solve the problem. Second, emotion-based coping involves behavioural responses to regulate the affective consequences of stressful events, which may include avoidance, minimisation and distancing oneself from the problem (Lazarus & Folkman 1984).
It seems that problem-based coping strategies are more instrumental than emotion-based ones for attaining successful entrepreneurial outcomes. This implies that entrepreneurs who are more inclined toward emotion-based coping could be trained to employ more problem-based coping, since coping can be learned just like any other competence.

(Drnovšek et al., 2010)

Leaders and Entrepreneurs: Don’t take on too many business partners. (See also AUTONOMY below)

… entrepreneurs who had lower perceived role centrality and were part of a larger founding team were more inclined to use emotion-based coping than those who started their venture in smaller teams. We believe these insights can help in training entrepreneurs in the development of effective coping strategies. Individuals with perceived high centrality of their entrepreneurial role are more likely to effectively engage in coping to optimise their venture”s performance and their own psychological well being.

(Drnovšek et al., 2010)

Prefer the ‘approach’ path instead of the ‘avoid’ path.

It is good for your well-being to work towards achieving something, rather than preventing something from happening.

[One] concern is whether one’s goal activities are characterized by approach or avoidance motivational systems. Elliot & Sheldon (1997), for example, classified goals as approach or avoidance and then examined the effects of goal progress over a short-term period. Pursuit of avoidance goals was associated with both poorer goal progress and with lower well-being. Elliot et al (1997) similarly showed that people whose personal goals contained a higher proportion of avoidance had lower SWB [Subjective Well Being]. They also demonstrated the association between neuroticism and avoidance goals, but showed that the impact of avoidance regulation was evident even when controlling for neuroticism. Carver & Scheier (1999) also presented research linking approach goals (positively) and avoidance goals (negatively) to well-being outcomes.

(Ryan & Deci, 2001)

AUTONOMY: Make a point of prefering autonomous goals rather than heteronomous goals (goals imposed/expected by others).

Another actively researched issue concerns how autonomous one is in pursuing goals. SDT in particular has taken a strong stand on this by proposing that only self-endorsed goals will enhance well-being, so pursuit of heteronomous goals, even when done efficaciously, will not. The relative autonomy of personal goals has, accordingly, been shown repeatedly to be predictive of well-being outcomes controlling for goal efficacy at both between-person and within-person levels of analysis (Ryan & Deci 2000). Interestingly this pattern of findings has been supported in cross-cultural research, suggesting that the relative autonomy of one’s pursuits matters whether one is collectivistic or individualistic, male or female (e.g. V Chirkov & RM Ryan 2001; Hayamizu 1997, Vallerand 1997).
Sheldon & Elliot (1999) developed a self-concordance model of how autonomy relates to well-being. Self-concordant goals are those that fulfill basic needs and are aligned with one’s true self. These goals are well-internalized and therefore autonomous, and they emanate from intrinsic or identified motivations. Goals that are not self-concordant encompass external or introjected motivation, and are ei- ther unrelated or indirectly related to need fulfillment. Sheldon & Elliot found that, although goal attainment in itself was associated with greater well-being, this effect was significantly weaker when the attained goals were not self-concordant. People who attained more self-concordant goals had more need-satisfying experi- ences, and this greater need satisfaction was predictive of greater SWB. Similarly, Sheldon & Kasser (1998) studied progress toward goals in a longitudinal design, finding that goal progress was associated with enhanced SWB and lower symp- toms of depression. However, the impact of goal progress was again moderated by goal concordance. Goals that were poorly integrated to the self, whose focus was not related to basic psychological needs, conveyed less SWB benefits, even when achieved.

(Ryan & Deci, 2001)

… freely chosen activities increase happiness, while obligatory activities lower it (Csikszentmihalyi & Hunter, 2003).

(Aaker et al., 2010)

... we find additional evidence that entrepreneurs also derive utility from things other than financial success. In particular, the achievement of independence and creativity is highly correlated with start-up satisfaction.
... our results indicate that forcing people into situations when they cannot choose among alternatives is likely to result in significant utility losses, independent of other factors.

(Block & Koellinger, 2009)

AUTONOMY: Make sure you have spare discretionary time — even at financial cost.

having spare time and perceiving control over how to spend that time (i.e. discretionary time) has been shown to have a strong and consistent effect on life satisfaction and happiness, even controlling for the actual amount of free time one has (Eriksson, Rice, & Goodin, 2007; Goodin, Rice, Parpo, & Eriksson, 2008).
Therefore, increase your discretionary time, even if it requires monetary resources. And if you can't afford to, focus on the present moment, breathe more slowly, and spend the little time that you have in meaningful ways.

(Aaker et al., 2010)

Be passionate, but don’t obsess. “Passion Does Make a Difference to People’s Well-Being” (Philippe, Vallerand, & Lavigne, 2009)

Key terms: hedonic well-being; eudaimonic well-being

Recent research has begun to distinguish two aspects of subjective well-being. Emotional [hedonic] well-being refers to the emotional quality of an individual’s everyday experience—the frequency and intensity of ex- periences of joy, stress, sadness, anger, and affection that make one’s life pleasant or unpleasant. Life evaluation [eudaimonic well-being] refers to the thoughts that people have about their life when they think about it.

(Kahneman & Deaton, 2010)

The results of two studies provided support for the idea that being harmoniously passionate for an activity contributes significantly to both hedonic and eudaimonic well-being, while being obsessively passionate or not being passionate for any activity does not contribute to well-being at all.
Indeed, merely engaging in a given activity without passion (i.e. being non-passionate) led to the lowest scores on both hedonic and eudaimonic well-being in Study 1 and to the highest decreases in vitality in Study 2 (although no significant differences were found between non-passionate and obsessively passionate people in these studies).
harmoniously passionate people scored significantly higher than obsessively passionate and non-passionate people on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being (Study 1).
only harmoniously passionate people showed a significant increase in vitality over a 1-year period, while obsessively passionate participants showed a slight decrease and non- passionate participants an even larger decrease (Study 2).
only harmonious passion positively predicts well-being over time, while obsessive passion is either negatively associated or unrelated to it (Rousseau & Vallerand, 2003, 2008; Vallerand et al., 2008, Study 2; Vallerand et al., 2007, Studies 1 and 2).
it would appear that an obsessively passionate or non-passionate engagement does not contribute to well-being, and may even have a cost, as shown by the decreases in vitality found in Study 2 for obsessively passionate and non-passionate people.

(Philippe et al., 2009)

Do work that you enjoy doing. Flow.

the accomplishment of goals and the ability to be lost in a task (Csikszentmihalyi and Csikszentmihalyi 1988) seem to be correlated with happiness.

(Nicolao, Irwin, & Goodman, 2009)

Sheldon and Lyubomirsky (2007) have posited that there is much room for improvement in one’s happiness. They suggest that while the largest part of our level of happiness is preset by our genetic endowment (around 50%), some 40 per cent is still modifiable (the last 10% is due to uncontrollable circumstances) and the best way to do this is through what they call “intentional activity engagement”.
They recommend engaging in interesting, fun activities that fit one’s personality and dispositions, that can vary in content, and that are not merely engaged in as a routine but when people feel like doing it. We agree with such a recommendation, especially as Sheldon and Lyubomirsky’s definition of intentional activity is rather close to that of harmonious passion.

(Philippe et al., 2009)

In Kasser’s view, the secret to SWB is meeting one’s intrinsic needs, which means pursuing intrinsic goals out of an intrinsic motivation. In this way, it is similar to Csikszentmihalyi’s (1999) view that happiness stems from “flow” experiences, which are also intrinsically motivated. I contend that the shift toward individualistic cultures that accompanies economic development helps people create life-styles that are consis- tent with their preferences and aptitudes (Veenhoven, 1999), and in so doing pursue their intrinsic needs.

(Ahuvia, 2002)

Set goals that are reasonably challenging and reasonably achievable.

One issue concerns the level of challenge posed by one’s goals. When life goals are nonoptimally challenging—either too easy or too difficult—positive affect [emotional well-being] is lower (Csikszentmihalyi & Csikszentmihalyi 1988). Low expectations of success have also been associated with high negative affect (Emmons 1986),

(Ryan & Deci, 2001)

Prefer intrinsic (vs. extrinsic) goals


Psychologists make a distinction between two important kinds of goals—intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic goals involve activities and projects that are personally rewarding and meaningful, and that satisfy people's basic needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy (Kasser & Ryan, 1993, 1996; see Ryan & Deci, 2000, for a review). By contrast, extrinsic goals involve strivings for fame, money, or favorable outward appearances. Research suggests that positive events generated by the fulfillment of intrinsic goals (e.g., making purchases for others rather than yourself) produce more happiness than those generated by extrinsic goals (Dunn, Aknin & Norton, 2008; see also Kasser, 2002; cf. Dunn et al., 2011).

(Chancellor & Lyubomirsky, 2011)

Because high aspirations undermine the benefits of a positive change, are people simply better off with few goals and lowered aspirations? Not necessarily. Ambitious goals held before beginning a new venture motivate people to work harder on that venture and improve their overall performance (Heath, Larrick & Wu, 1999). Individuals would, however, be happier if they focused their monies and efforts on meaningful, intrinsic goals and abandoned extrinsic ones.
Extrinsic goals undermine well-being in several ways. First, by their very nature, extrinsic goals do not satisfy people's basic needs directly, if at all. Instead, much like an addiction (Koob & Le Moal, 2001), such goals lead to ever-increasing desires for psychologically unfulfilling commodities (Myers, 2000). Second, extrinsic goals appear to be incompatible with close, meaningful relationships. Those who pursue extrinsic goals report poorer relationships (Kasser & Ryan, 2001). Indeed, even being reminded of money, as Dunn and colleagues (2011) mention, can cause people to be less prosocial and less generous (Vohs, Mead & Goode, 2006), as well as to be perceived as less friendly and likable by others (Vohs, 2010).
... over-reliance on external contingencies such as becoming famous, wealthy, or attractive may lead to fragile self-worth (Sheldon, Ryan, Deci & Kasser, 2004). For example, a student seeking a law degree from a prestigious and pricey school with the aim of gaining peer respect might become hopelessly depressed if not admitted. Finally, due to limits of attention, time, and energy, extrinsic goals can lead to the neglect of intrinsic pursuits, which are associated with higher well-being (Vohs et al., 2006).
An entrepreneur investing in a new company with the aim of striking it rich might neglect his true interests and hobbies to invest all his energy into his business, and thus miss the need-satisfying personal growth, flow, and joy derived from his more authentic pursuits.
Fittingly expressing the futility and unhappiness wrapped up in pursuing extrinsic goals, a notorious New York tabloid editor confessed that he was “part of that strange race of people aptly described as spending their lives doing things they detest to make money they don't want to buy things they don't need to impress people they dislike” (Gauvreau, 1941). As Benjamin Franklin well knew, money is best directed to goals that directly satisfy personal needs such as affiliation, autonomy, and competence rather than expensive pursuits that are unfulfilling and distracting in the end.
In contrast, intrinsic goals, such as building close relationships, making new self-discoveries, and investing in the community, directly activate feelings of satisfaction and con- tentment, which are more likely to be appreciated and less likely to be taken for granted. Dunn and colleagues (2011) rightfully emphasize the link between generosity and well- being, recommending that, to follow the example of Warren Buffett, people spend their money on others rather them themselves.
Intrinsic goals can also trigger “upward spirals”— for example, streams of positive moods and prosocial behavior that gain momentum and reinforce one another as they unfold (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005; Norton, Dunn, Aknin & Sandstrom, 2009; Otake, Shimai, Tanaka-Matsumi, Otsui & Fredrickson, 2006).

(Chancellor & Lyubomirsky, 2011)


The Hedonic Treadmill: We adapt to life changes. Many things that give pleasure will soon cease to do so, thereby driving us to seek more, and more…

The “pursuit of happiness” is central to the U.S. worldview, yet the very expression also illustrates a paradox of that worldview: Perhaps when one [naively] pursues happiness too single-mindedly, one fails to notice and take advantage of what one already has. In other words, [naively] striving for ever greater happiness may set one on a hedonic treadmill to nowhere. (More on this below)

(Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2012)

Prefer experiential purchases; avoid materialistic goals. It is better to collect (positive) experiences than to collect things.

(But do not keep repeating the same positive experience, lest hedonic adaptation set in quicker. See "Stretching Happiness" farther down.)

Experiential activities are inherently more social (Caprariello & Reis, 2010; Van Boven & Gilovich, 2003) and for this reason fulfill the psychological need for relatedness (Howell & Hill, 2009).

(Howell et al., 2012)

Discretionary experiential purchases ostensibly foster more social contact than discretionary material purchases (Millar & Thomas 2009; Van Boven, 2005), which is a key component to happiness (Argyle, 2001).
Research has demonstrated that people are happier with experiential purchases compared to material items.
Experiential purchases are more central to positive self-identity than material purchases.
Further, experiential purchases may satisfy the personal needs of development and growth more than material acquisitions (Kasser & Ryan, 1996).

(Thomas, 2010)

... we show that on average the most happiness obtained through purchasing is likely to be obtained through experiential purchases that turn out well.
... positive social interaction is a major source of happiness; many experiential purchases involve activities with other people, including family.

(Nicolao et al., 2009)

Materialism might lead to lower well-being because materialistic people tend to downplay the importance of social relationships and to have a large gap between their incomes and material aspirations (Solberg, Diener, & Robinson, 2004).

(Diener & Seligman, 2004)

Several studies have documented that a materialistic lifestyle is associated with diminished subjective well-being.
... consistent with previous research, we found that materialism is negatively correlated with life satisfaction (Belk 1984, 1985; Burroughs and Rindfleisch 2002; Christopher et al. 2007; Ryan and Dziurawiec 2001; Wright and Larsen 1993).
... in line with previous research (Christopher and Schlenker 2004; Chris- topher et al. 2009). High materialistic consumers experience negative emotions more frequently than low materialistic consumers.

(Hudders & Pandelaere, 2011)

... we administered three widely used measures of a materialistic value orientation to 92 business students in Singapore. As expected, those students who had strongly internalized materialistic values also reported lowered self-actualization, vitality and happiness, as well as increased anxiety, physical symptomatology, and unhappiness. (Kasser & Ahuvia, 2002)
past research demonstrating that materialistic values are associated with experiences of general and existential insecurity (Pyszczynski et al., 1997; Rindfleisch et al., 2009).

(Howell et al., 2012)

... positive experiences not only live on in memories but also lend themselves to even more positive reinterpretations over time as the negative aspects of them fade

(Nicolao et al., 2009)

... when security needs are met, it may be more adaptive to broaden one’s experience and acquire new knowledge, skills, and relationships that often accompany experiential purchases. These experiences, if they do not arouse competing security concerns, may then provide increased SWB with accompanying reductions in feelings of anxiety and insecurity, encouraging further experiential purchases, and resulting in the ‘upward spiral’ depicted in our model. In this way, the benefits of an experiential purchasing tendency may accrue over a lifetime and individuals may develop stable purchasing habits.

(Howell et al., 2012)

In sum, evidence suggests that when looking to spend money, the most satisfying pursuits should involve learning new skills (e.g., mastering a new instrument or learning a foreign language), spending time with others (e.g., taking out one's family to dinner or having coffee with a friend), or doing something good for someone else (e.g., buying Christmas decorations for an elderly neighbor or sending a care package to a sick friend).

(Chancellor & Lyubomirsky, 2011)

We provide evidence that this purchase type by valence interaction is driven by the fact that consumers adapt more slowly to experiential purchases than to material purchases, leading to both greater happiness and greater unhappiness for experiential purchases.
adaptation happens more quickly for material purchases than for experiential purchases.

(Nicolao et al., 2009)

Don’t engage in ‘comparison shopping.’ And don’t place much stock in the happiness potential of any one positive change.

Comparison shopping makes us aware of previously unimportant differences and makes us forget the salient qualities of what we want.

Sites like [] offer consumers the opportunity to search for everything [...], comparing a vast range of available options within a given category. [...] Recent research suggests that comparison shopping may sometimes come at a cost. By altering the psychological context in which decisions are made, comparison shopping may distract consumers from attributes of a product that will be important for their happiness, focusing their attention instead on attributes that distinguish the available options.
Another problem with comparison shopping is that the comparisons we make when we are shopping are not the same comparisons we will make when we consume what we shopped for (Hsee, Loewenstein, Blount, & Bazerman, 1999; Hsee & Zhang, 2004).
One of the dangers of comparison shopping, then, is that the options we don't choose typically recede into the past and are no longer used as standards for comparison.
A similar process is likely to unfold in the real estate market. Before purchasing a home, people typically attend scores of open houses and viewings, scrutinizing spec sheets for information about each property's features. Through this process of comparison shopping, the features that distinguish one home from another may come to loom large, while their similarities fade into the background. As a result, home buyers might over- estimate the hedonic consequences of living in a big, beautiful house in a great location versus a more modest home, leading them to take out a larger loan than they can truly afford (potentially sowing the seeds for a nationwide financial crisis).
This suggests that consumers who expect a single purchase to have a lasting impact on their happiness might make more realistic predictions if they simply thought about a typical day in their life.
Conclusion When asked to take stock of their lives, people with more money report being a good deal more satisfied [eudamonic well being]. But when asked how happy they are at the moment, people with more money are barely different than those with less [hedonic well being] (Diener, Ng, Harter, & Arora, 2010). This suggests that our money provides us with satisfaction when we think about it, but not when we use it. That shouldn't happen. Money can buy many, if not most, if not all of the things that make people happy, and if it doesn't, then the fault is ours. We believe that psychologists can teach people to spend their money in ways that will indeed increase their happiness, and we hope we've done a bit of that here.

(Dunn et al., 2011)

When people consider the impact of any single factor on their well-being—not only income—they are prone to exaggerate its importance. We refer to this tendency as the focusing illusion.

(Kahneman, 2006)

'Follow the herd.' (Dunn et al., 2011)

Research suggests that the best way to predict how much we will enjoy an experience is to see how much someone else enjoyed it. In one study, Gilbert, Killingsworth, Eyre, and Wilson (2009) asked women to predict how much they would enjoy a speed date with a particular man. Some of the women were shown the man's photograph and autobiography, while others were shown only a rating of how much a previous woman had enjoyed a speed date with the same man a few minutes earlier. Although the vast majority of the participants expected that those who were shown the photograph and autobiography would make more accurate predictions than those who were shown the rating, precisely the opposite was the case. Indeed, relative to seeing the photograph and autobiography, seeing the rating reduced inaccuracy by about 50%. It appears that the 17th century writer François de La Rochefoucauld was correct when he wrote: “Before we set our hearts too much upon anything, let us first examine how happy those are who already possess it.”

(Dunn et al., 2011)


Socialize — with the right people.

... the effects of wealth are not large, and they are dwarfed by other influences, such as those of personality and social relationships.

(Diener & Seligman, 2004)

... it is not only whether you spend your time with others that influences your happiness, but also who you spend your time with. Interaction partners associated with the greatest happiness levels include friends, family, and significant others, whereas bosses and co-workers tend to be associated with the least happiness (Kahneman et al., 2004).
social leisure activities contribute more to happiness than solitary ones (Reyes-Garcia et al., 2009).
Furthermore, people who frequently engage in social activities experience higher levels of happiness than people who participate in social activities less often (Lloyd & Auld, 2002), and being with others typically improves the quality of an experience (whereas being alone makes most people sad, lonely, or both; Csikszentmihalyi & Larson, 1984; Lewinsohn, Sullivan, & Grosscup, 1982).

(Aaker et al., 2010)

Compared with the less happy groups, the happiest respondents did not exercise significantly more, participate in religious activities significantly more, or experience more objectively defined good events. No variable was sufficient for happiness, but good social relations were necessary.
Our findings suggest that very happy people have rich and satisfying social relationships and spend little time alone relative to average people. […] In contrast, unhappy people have social relationships that are significantly worse than average.

(Diener & Seligman, 2002)

Income and education are more closely related to life evaluation, but health, care giving, loneliness, and smoking are relatively stronger predictors of daily emotions.

(Kahneman & Deaton, 2010)

Associate with happy people.

... research has also shown that our relationships with weak ties, and even strangers, can affect our happiness. Using a large-scale, longitudinal dataset, Fowler and Christakis [5] suggested that happiness spreads throughout social networks,extending up to three degrees of separation: a person becomes happier if their friend’s friend’s friend becomes happier, even if they don’t know that person.

(Aknin, Sandstrom, Dunn, & Norton, 2011b)

People who are surrounded by many happy people and those who are central in the network are more likely to become happy in the future. Longitudinal statistical models suggest that clusters of happiness result from the spread of happiness and not just a tendency for people to associate with similar individuals. A friend who lives within a mile (about 1.6 km) and who becomes happy increases the probability that a person is happy by 25% (95% confidence interval 1% to 57%). Similar effects are seen in coresident spouses (8%, 0.2% to 16%), siblings who live within a mile (14%, 1% to 28%), and next door neighbours (34%, 7% to 70%). Effects are not seen between coworkers. The effect decays with time and with geographical separation.

(Fowler & Christakis, 2008)

Give the people around you opportunities to be generous. Ask them for favors.

You can possibly make people around you happier by allowing them to be kind and generous, and you want to surround yourself with happy people (see above). Aside from making them happier, you will also improve your relationship with them via the Benjamin Franklin effect, which — unintuitively — makes people like you more if you ask them for favors.

Be actively kind (and occasionaly reminisce about your recent acts of kindness).

Subjective happiness was increased simply by counting one’s own acts of kindness for one week.
Happy people became more kind and grateful through the counting kindnesses intervention.
Our results further suggest that a reciprocal relationship may exist between kindness and happiness, as has been shown for gratitude and happiness [see below].

(Otake et al., 2006)

STRETCHING HAPPINESS (fighting hedonic adaptation)

Hedonic adaptation — definition:

The pleasure of success and the ignominy of failure abate with time. So does the thrill of a new sports car, the pain over a failed romance, the delight over a promotion, and the distress of a scary diagnosis. This phenomenon, known as hedonic adaptation (HA), has drawn increasing interest from both psychologists and economists (e.g., Diener, Lucas, & Scollon, 2006; Easterlin, 2006; Frederick & Loewenstein, 1999; Kahneman & Thaler, 2006; Lucas, 2007a; Lyubomirsky, 2011; Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, & Schkade, 2005; Wilson & Gilbert, 2008).

(Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2012)

Choose smaller, more frequent successes rather than larger ones.

Even big positive changes can get old fast, and soon stop bringing happiness.

...every one of the published studies evidences fairly rapid and apparently complete adaptation to positive changes. The most widely-cited study is that of Brickman and his colleagues (1978), who reported that lottery winners were no happier up to 18 months after the news than those who had experienced no windfall.

(Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2012)

Go for variety and surprise. Don’t keep doing the same thing.

...variable stimuli resist adaptation more than do unchanging stimuli (see also Wilson & Gilbert, 2008).

(Chancellor & Lyubomirsky, 2011)

...these findings support the notion that variety and surprise spice up life in ways that sustain well-being (Sheldon et al., in press; Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2006, 2009; Wilson, Centerbar, Kermer, & Gilbert, 2005)”

(Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2012)

Savor the anticipation. Delay consumption. Actively anticipate good experiences.

Research in the field of neuroscience has shown that the part of the brain responsible for feeling pleasure, the mesolimbic dopamine system, can be activated when merely thinking about something pleasurable, such as drinking one's favorite brand of beer (McClure, Li, Tomlin, Cypert, Montague, & Montague, 2004) or driving one's favorite type of sports car (Erk, Spitzer, Wunderlich, Galley, & Walter, 2002).
... the brain sometimes enjoys anticipating a reward more than receiving the reward (Loewenstein, 1987; Berns, McClure, Pagnoni, & Montague, 2001).
... the pleasure derived from window shopping for a dress may exceed the pleasure from actually acquiring the dress.

(Aaker et al., 2010)

(Perhaps the above can inform the discourse on the [ir]rationality of lotteries.)

Divide positive experiences into smaller pleasures, if possible.

Dividing consumption into smaller doses and separating it out over time can multiply [the pleasure of] “first bites,” and subsequently, the enjoyment. Savoring a chocolate bar could be as simple as dividing it into squares and eating one piece per day, instead of devouring it all in a single sitting. Research supports the idea that breaks are beneficial for positive experiences, such as enjoying a television program, but detrimental for negative experiences, such as enduring a dental drill (Nelson, Meyvis & Galak, 2009).

(Chancellor & Lyubomirsky, 2011)

Dividing into smaller doses also increases the amount of pleasurable anticipation. See previous subsection.

Corollary: Conclude negative experiences as soon as possible.

Don’t "think about it tomorrow.” Prolongation increases the effect of both negative and positive experiences, and bad is stronger than good:

Although the same hedonic adaptation process is involved in both positive and negative experiences, an important asymme- try exists between the two that further complicates efforts to remain happy, especially if a positive change comes at a high financial cost. To sum up almost two decades of research, bad is stronger than good (Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Finkenauer & Vohs, 2001; see also Taylor, 1991), or as Einstein quipped, “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute.” [...] positive changes are weaker than negative changes, and that their effects also evaporate more quickly (e.g., Nezlek & Gable, 2001; Sheldon, Ryan & Reis, 1996; see also Oishi, Diener, Choi, Kim-Prieto & Choi, 2007).

(Chancellor & Lyubomirsky, 2011)

Make a point of avoiding experiences that make you feel bad.

Well-being is about more than just frequently feeling good—it is also about infrequently feeling bad (Diener, Suh, Lucas & Smith, 1999).
All else being equal, the elimination of negative experiences could provide a three- to five-fold hedonic return on investment over the creation of positive experiences, due to positive/negative asymmetry (e.g., David, Green, Martin & Suls, 1997; Fredrickson & Losada, 2005; Gottman, 1994).

(Chancellor & Lyubomirsky, 2011)


Be grateful. Count your blessings (literally). Recycle happiness. Reminisce about good experiences.

A number of experiments have demonstrated that the regular practice of gratitude—a practice closely related to and often indistinguishable from appreciation and savoring—brings about significant increases in well-being when performed over the course of 1 to 12 consecutive weeks. For example, relative to performing neutral activities, the intentional and effortful practice of “counting one's blessings” once a week (Emmons & McCullough, 2003; Froh, Sefick & Emmons, 2008; Lyubo- mirsky, Sheldon, & Schkade, 2005) or penning appreciation letters to individuals who have been kind and meaningful (Boehm, Lyubomirsky, & Sheldon, in press; Lyubomirsky, Dickerhoof, Boehm, & Sheldon, in press; Seligman, Steen, Park & Peterson, 2005) has been shown to produce increases in happiness for as long as 6 months.

(Chancellor & Lyubomirsky, 2011)

Think of counterfactuals. (“If I didn’t have this, what do I lose?”)

Another cognitive exercise that directs attention toward existing positive changes or events is counterfactual thinking. This strategy involves mentally subtracting a purchased positive experience from ever having taken place, and enumerating all the subsequent blessings that also would have disappeared (Koo, Algoe, Wilson, & Gilbert, 2008).

(Chancellor & Lyubomirsky, 2011)

Breathe deeply. Expand your time — by slowing down.

[People feel less rushed and hurried when they] simply breathe more deeply. In one study, subjects who were instructed to take long and slow breaths (vs. short and quick ones) for 5 minutes not only felt there was more time available to get things done, but also perceived their day to be longer.

(Aaker et al., 2010)

Stay in the present.

One possible benefit of being present-focused is that thinking about the present moment (vs. the future) slows down the perceived passage of time, allowing people to feel less rushed and hurried (Rudd & Aaker, 2010).

(Aaker et al., 2010)


Actively want to be happier. Motivation and investment matter.

First, and most important, we found that to become happier, people need both a will and a proper way. The will can come from motivation, expectations, and diligence. The proper way comes from performing the “right” activity, not merely a placebo. Accordingly, we found that motivation and investment in becoming a happier person matters. That is, expressing gratitude and optimism did not generally increase well-being unless a person was truly cognizant of the exercises’ purpose and motivated to improve his or her happiness. Second, effortful pursuit of happiness activities was found to be important to improving and maintaining well- being.
... happiness interventions are more than just placebos, but […] they are most successful when participants know about, endorse, and commit to the intervention.
According to our model of well-being change (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, et al., 2005; Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2004), sustainable increases in happiness are possible, but only if pursued under optimal conditions, such as when people are motivated to perform a positive activity, when they bring to bear effort and persistence, and when the activity is a legitimately efficacious one.

(Lyubomirsky et al., 2011)

Learn about the science of happiness. Internalize the recommendations in this article and in here.

... people often hold incorrect intuitive theories about the determinants of happiness. For instance, they overestimate the impact of specific life events on their experienced well-being with regard to intensity, as well as with regard to duration. (see also Comparison Shopping above)
... four major sources for systematic over- and undervaluation of choice options that can be distinguished: (i) the underestimation of adaptation, (ii) distorted memory of past experiences, (iii) the rationalization of decisions, and (iv) false intuitive theories about the sources of future utility.

(Quoidbach et al., 2010)

Money is an opportunity for happiness, but it is an opportunity that people routinely squander because the things they think will make them happy often don’t.
It is not surprising when wealthy people who know nothing about wine end up with cellars that aren't that much better stocked than their neighbors', and it should not be surprising when wealthy people who know nothing about happiness end up with lives that aren't that much happier than anyone else's.

(Dunn et al., 2011)


Happiness predicts [future] income.

(Diener & Seligman, 2004)

(^But try not to think of it that way!)

... we found that with all but one specification, initial happiness levels were positively and significantly correlated with future earnings. […] An additional finding is that the effects of initial period happiness on future income and on future happiness seem to be more consistent across all income groups than are the effects of initial period income on either future income and future happiness. The effects of initial period income seem more important for those at higher levels of income.
The studies by psychologists that find that happiness has positive effects on future income also find that these effects are stronger at the higher end of the income scale. See Diener and Biswas-Diener (1999).

(Graham, Eggers & Sukhtankar, 2004)

... higher cheerfulness in the first year of college correlated with higher income 19 years or so later, when respondents reached their late 30s; this effect was greatest for those who came from the most affluent families

(Diener & Seligman, 2004)

It will be easier to stay happy when you become happier

... our findings also dovetail with those of Cohn and Fredrickson (in press) by demonstrating that initial happiness gains can cause a happiness intervention to become self-reinforcing.

(Aknin, Dunn, & Norton, 2011a)

Happiness Interventions Work!

Fordyce (1977, 1983) created an intervention program based on the idea that people's subjective well-being can be increased if they learn to imitate the traits of happy people, such as being organized, keeping busy, spending more time socializing, developing a positive outlook, and working on a healthy personality. Fordyce found that the program produced increases in happiness compared to a placebo control, as ell as compared to participants in conditions receiving only partial information. Most impressive, he found lasting effects of the intervention in follow-up evaluation 9-28 months after the study.

(Diener et al., 2009)

Recently, a number of additional effective interventions on happiness have been reported, ranging from the kindness interventions (Otake, Shimai, Tanaca-Matumi, Otsui, & Fredrickson, 2006) and gratitude interventions (Emmons & McCulough, 2003) to variants of the writing intervention (King, 2001; Lyubomirsky, Sousa, & Dickerhoof, 2006). Recent intervention studies are clearly promising. However, more diverse dependent variables and measuring instruments would be desirabe, as well as explorations of which interventions are most beneficial, and why.

(Diener et al., 2009)

Extra extra: Cultural Differences

Veenhoven (1999) found that among poor countries, individualism was negatively associated with happiness; whereas among richer countries, individualism was positively associated with happiness. This suggests that economic growth is part of a complex system of modernization that needs to be seen holistically. Collectivism may exist in poorer countries because it is highly functional in that environment, but it may give way to more individualism as societies modernize and the needs of those societies change. Overall, individualism/collectivism stands out as an extremely promising construct for explaining differences in national average levels of SWB, when investigated holistically as part of the larger social system (Cummins, 1998; Myers and Diener, 1995).
... economic development increases SWB by creating a cultural environment where individuals make choices to maximize their happiness rather than meet social obligations (Coleman, 1990; Galbraith, 1992; Triandis, 1989; Triandis et al., 1990; Veenhoven, 1999; Watkins and Liu, 1996). This cultural transformation away from obligation and toward the pursuit of happiness is part of a broader transition away from collectivism and toward individualist cultural values and forms of social organization.
Cross-cultural research shows that values like “enjoying life” and leading “an exciting life” are stronger in individualist societies, whereas “social recognition,” “preserving my public image,” being “humble,” and “honoring parents and elders” are particularly strong in collectivist societies (Triandis et al., 1990, p. 1015). There is no more reason to think that people seek social recognition with the ultimate goal of personal happiness, than there is to think that people seek happiness with the ultimate goal of getting others to think well of them for having such a pleasant affect.

(Ahuvia, 2002)


Aaker, J. L., Rudd, M., & Mogilner, C. (2010). If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy, Consider Time. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2011.

Ahuvia, A. C. (2002). Individualism/collectivism and cultures of happiness: A theoretical conjecture on the relationship between consumption, culture and subjective well-being at the national level. Journal of Happiness Studies, 3(1), 23–36. Springer.

Aknin, L. B., Dunn, E. W., & Norton, M. I. (2011a). Happiness Runs in a Circular Motion: Evidence for a Positive Feedback Loop between Prosocial Spending and Happiness. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13(2), 347–355. doi:10.1007/s10902-011-9267-5

Aknin, L. B., Sandstrom, G. M., Dunn, E. W., & Norton, M. I. (2011b). It's the Recipient That Counts: Spending Money on Strong Social Ties Leads to Greater Happiness than Spending on Weak Social Ties. (M. Perc, Ed.)PLoS ONE, 6(2), e17018. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0017018

Aknin, L. B., Barrington-Leigh, C. P., Dunn, E. W., Helliwell, J. F., Biswas-Diener, R., Kemeza, I., Nyende, P., et al. (2010). Prosocial spending and well-being: cross-cultural evidence for a psychological universal. National Bureau of Economic Research.

Block, J., & Koellinger, P. (2009). I Can't Get No Satisfaction—Necessity Entrepreneurship and Procedural Utility. Kyklos, 62(2), 191–209. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6435.2009.00431.x

Chancellor, J., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2011). Happiness and thrift: When (spending) less is (hedonically) more. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 21(2), 131.

DeVoe, S. E., & House, J. (2012). Time, money, and happiness: How does putting a price on time affect our ability to smell the roses? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(2), 466–474. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2011.11.012

Diener, E., Oishi, S., Lucas, R.E. (2009). Subjective Well-Being: The science of happiness and life satisfaction. Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology, 187-194.

Diener, E., & Seligman, M. P. (2002). Very happy people. Psychological Science, 13(1), 81–84.

Diener, E., & Seligman, M. P. (2004). Beyond money. Psychological science in the public interest, 5(1), 1–31.

Drnovšek, M., Örtqvist, D., & Wincent, J. (2010). The effectiveness of coping strategies used by entrepreneurs and their impact on personal well-being and venture performance. Journal of Economics and Business, 28, 193–220.

Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness. Science, 319(5870), 1687–1688. doi:10.1126/science.1150952

Dunn, E. W., Ashton-James, C. E., Hanson, M. D., & Aknin, L. B. (2010). On the Costs of Self-interested Economic Behavior: How Does Stinginess Get Under the Skin? Journal of Health Psychology, 15(4), 627–633. doi:10.1177/1359105309356366

Dunn, E. W., Gilbert, D. T., & Wilson, T. D. (2011). If money doesn“t make you happy, then you probably aren't spending it right. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 21(2), 115.

Fowler, J. H., & Christakis, N. A. (2008). The dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network. BMJ: British medical journal, 337, a2338.

Frey, B. S., & Stutzer, A. (2002). The economics of happiness. World Economics, 3(1), 1–17.

Graham, C., Eggers, A., & Sukhtankar, S. (2004). Does happiness pay?: An exploration based on panel data from Russia. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 55(3), 319–342. Elsevier.

Howell, R. T., Pchelin, P., & Iyer, R. (2012). The preference for experiences over possessions: Measurement and construct validation of the Experiential Buying Tendency Scale. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 7(1), 57–71.

Hudders, L., & Pandelaere, M. (2011). The Silver Lining of Materialism: The Impact of Luxury Consumption on Subjective Well-Being. Journal of Happiness Studies. doi:10.1007/s10902-011-9271-9

Kahneman, D. (2006). Would You Be Happier If You Were Richer? A Focusing Illusion. Science, 312(5782), 1908–1910. doi:10.1126/science.1129688

Kahneman, D., & Deaton, A. (2010). High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(38), 16489–16493. doi:10.1073/pnas.1011492107

Kasser, T., & Ahuvia, A. (2002). Materialistic values and well-being in business students. European Journal of Social Psychology, 32(1), 137–146. doi:10.1002/ejsp.85

Lyubomirsky, S., Dickerhoof, R., Boehm, J. K., & Sheldon, K. M. (2011). Becoming happier takes both a will and a proper way: An experimental longitudinal intervention to boost well-being. Emotion, 11(2), 391.

Mogilner, C. (2010). The Pursuit of Happiness: Time, Money, and Social Connection. Psychological Science, 21(9), 1348–1354. doi:10.1177/0956797610380696

Nickerson, C., Schwarz, N., Diener, E., & Kahneman, D. (2003). Zeroing in on the Dark Side of the American Dream A Closer Look at the Negative Consequences of the Goal for Financial Success. Psychological Science, 14(6), 531–536.

Nicolao, L., Irwin, J., & Goodman, J. (2009). Happiness for Sale: Do Experiential Purchases Make Consumers Happier than Material Purchases? Journal of Consumer Research, 36(2), 188–198. doi:10.1086/597049

Otake, K., Shimai, S., Tanaka-Matsumi, J., Otsui, K., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2006). Happy People Become Happier through Kindness: A Counting Kindnesses Intervention. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7(3), 361–375. doi:10.1007/s10902-005-3650-z

Philippe, F. L., Vallerand, R. J., & Lavigne, G. L. (2009). Passion does make a difference in people's lives: A look at well-being in passionate and non-passionate individuals. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 1(1), 3–22.

Quoidbach, J., Dunn, E. W., Petrides, K. V, & Mikolajczak, M. (2010). Money Giveth, Money Taketh Away. Psychological Science, 21(6), 759.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2001). On happiness and human potentials: A review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Annual Review of Psychology, 52(1), 141–166.

Sheldon, K. M., Lyubomirsky, S. (2012).The Challenge of Staying Happier: Testing the Hedonic Adaptation Prevention Model. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. doi:10.1177/0146167212436400

Stutzer, A., & Frey, B. S. (2010). Recent advances in the economics of individual subjective well-being. Social Research: An International Quarterly, 77(2), 679–714.

Thomas, R. L. (2010). Mediating and moderating variables between discretionary purchases and happiness. UNLV Theses/Dissertations/Professional Papers/Capstones. Paper 889.


267 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 2:52 PM
New Comment
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

This isn't a fault of the post per se, but I wish there wasn't so damn much equivocation on the word "happiness". I know what sadness, contempt, contentment, rapture, &c. are—introspectively they strike me as a rather distinct states. But "happiness" means like ten or fifteen different things that are only somewhat related to each other. (FWIW smiling makes me feel bitter-sweet, not happy, so this might be an undue generalization from one example.)

Also, at least many kinds of happiness are measures of value, not ends in themselves, and so chasing after them specifically is getting dangerously close to wireheading or the problems of Goodhart's law more generally.

Some feelings that have some "happiness"-nature: joy (piti), rapture (piti), bliss (sukha), loving-kindness (metta), adoration, sadness (paradoxically?), bitter-sweet-ness, exaltation, triumph, relief, a variation on wistfulness related to loving-kindness, power, pleasure, communing with God (maybe rapture/adoration/exaltation hybrid?), sehnsucht (sort of?). There are more but the list at least indicates the variety.

5[anonymous]9yOwen Flanagan has done some decent work [] on eudaimonia, you might find interesting e.g. how eudaimonia (Buddha) differs from eudaimonia (Aristotle) and to some degree what kind of states of mind each value.
7Klevador9yRe Equivocation: Good point. The important distinction seems to be between hedonic well-being and eudaimonic well-being. Found [] on the web: The thrust of this post is mostly for hedonic well-being (or 'experienced happiness').
5Will_Newsome9y(For the "meaning and self-realization" side of things one should check out transpersonal psychology [] . Here []'s an abridged version of William James' "The Varieties of Religious Experience".)
1Klevador9yI believe it's more mundane than that. From what I've read, eudaimonic well-being (aka life satisfaction) is measured by self-report tests (eg. "How satisfied are you with your life?")
5steven04619yIt would be particularly nice to understand what sense of "happiness" people (should) have in mind when they say that happiness is instrumentally useful.
5Raemon9yWhen did people say happiness was instrumentally useful? I mean, I think it probably is to a certain extent, but I want happiness explicitly because it's a terminal value, and I don't judge people who place other values higher.
3Will_Newsome9yHow do you make the distinction between valuing being happy versus valuing the things that cause you to be happy? I'm worried about happiness-seekers making errors here; I think that at least in some cases a person trying to increase his happiness sounds a lot like an economic planner trying to increase a country's GDP, rather than trying to increase the things that GDP is (perhaps-incorrectly!) seen as an indicator of desirability of. It seems to me that various kinds of happiness are qualia that are outputs of certain motivational architectures which were created by variably egosyntonic genetic/memetic/Hebbian selection pressures aimed at solving not-entirely-motivational problems which might in themselves be valuable to solve. In such cases reifying the goal of being happy qua being happy would risk an unfortunate error. (This is all modulo my confusion about what people usually mean when they talk about "happiness" in general.)
1Raemon9yThere are things I value in addition to being happy. Creating quality art. Contributing to global human flourishing. But I definitely value happiness for its own sake. I don't try to maximize happiness, but there's a certain amount that I need to satisfice on. I don't know exactly what makes me happy - it's includes "working on fulfilling projects," "having a good social network", "getting exercise", and "having close, intimate friends/romantic-partners". but not necessarily all of those things, all the time. One important thing I learned last year is that sometimes, something I think of as "important" turns out to be making me unhappy. It's useful to me to look at "total happiness GDP", see when it started going down, and then figure out which variable was the cause. This year, I started going to a bunch of new meetups, which were individually fun and valuable for my long-term non-happiness goals. But for some reason I became increasingly stressed and unhappy. Eventually I realized that I had forgotten I was an introvert, and even though I enjoy extroverted activities, I need to ensure I get alone time. I cut back on meetups, and I feel much better now. I appreciate this because I feeling good is good, and also because it means I can get other things done. Not sure if that explained it very well. I could write multiple pages about how I think about happiness, but if I'm doing that it probably should be a fully-formed post.
0steven04619yYes, when I claimed that people sometimes say that happiness is instrumentally useful, that was not based on them saying happiness is worth pursuing and me concluding they must therefore think it's instrumentally useful; rather, it was based on them saying happiness is instrumentally useful.
0Raemon9yThey didn't say it on this page though, hence my confusion.
0Klevador9yAs for your second paragraph — I'm not certain, but I think it's rational to treat happiness as a maximand. Is your objection not addressed by the sections "Optimal Happification" and "Happiness Interventions Work!" ?
3Will_Newsome9yTo a significant extent it seems to me to be a question of moral philosophy. But there are also practical objections—for example, I might have missed it, but I don't see "regularly smoke opium" as one of the listed recommendations. As far as increasing happiness goes I hear it's hard to beat heroin. Nonetheless most people who strive for happiness don't go the heroin/painkiller route. I think this says something about the desirability of experienced happiness by itself.
7TheOtherDave9yMost people I know believe that heroin (and similar mechanisms) get short-term happiness followed either by long-term unhappiness, or death. So I'm not sure how much their avoidance of that route says about how much they desire happiness by itself, other than that it isn't strictly more important than longevity. (The fact that unhappy people don't always kill themselves suggests that as well.) Of course, it's tricky inferring causation from correlation. It might be that we believe that about heroin because it reinforces our predisposition to reject experienced happiness as a motivator, for example, whether it's true or not.
-1Hul-Gil9yThat's the long and short of it, I think. There is no reason not to use heroin to obtain maximum utility (for one's self), if one a.) finds it pleasurable, b.) can afford it, and c.) is able to obtain pure and measured doses. (Or simply uses pharmaceuticals.) The perceived danger of heroin comes from its price and illegality (uncertain dosage + potentially dangerous impurities), which often results in penury, and overdose or illness, for the user. People also want "real" happiness, by which I presume they mean happiness resulting from actions like painting a picture, and not happiness induced by chemical... which is silly, since the two feelings are produced by the same neurochemistry and functionally identical (i.e., all happiness is ultimately chemical). (The perceived difference may still bother someone enough that they choose a different route, though, especially if they don't realize they can just paint a picture... on heroin.)
1TheOtherDave9yWell, you're leaving out any discussion of goals I might have other than pleasure, and how well heroin helps me achieve those goals. One difference between heroin use and painting a picture is that the latter case causes there to be a picture, for example, and I might value the existence of the picture in addition to valuing my neurochemical state. But, sure, if I can do all the same stuff in the world as well or better while maintaining a heroin habit, then that's not relevant.
0Hul-Gil9yI was hoping someone would bring that up. You've already given the same answer I would, though: it's not necessarily an either/or scenario like Nozick's "experience machine" concept, so it's possible to have both heroin and pictures, in theory.
0tog9yAre pure and measured doses safe? What about the adverse consequences of addiction?
1[anonymous]9yThis seems reasonably close to reinventing fun theory.
0Hul-Gil9ySee my post below; I think this is due to a.) a misunderstanding of the nature of happiness (a thought that chemically-induced happiness is different from "regular" happiness... which is also chemical), b.) a feeling that opium is incredibly dangerous (as it can be), and c.) a misunderstanding of how opium makes you feel - people can say "I know opium makes you happy" without actually feeling/knowing that it does so. That is, their mental picture of how they'd feel if they smoked opium doesn't correspond to the reality, which is - for most people - that it makes them feel much, much better than they would have imagined.

This may be paranoid of me, but I'm always worried that when posts like this use the word "you", people will read it as "you", when they should be reading it as "the average person, who is similar to you to some extent (e.g. in possessing such brain machinery as is humanly universal), and whose properties inform you about your own properties to a degree that depends on background information".

It would be pretty neat if we had some happiness research that was disaggregated by such variables as intelligence, cognitive reflectiveness, and introversion. Does anyone know of such research?

0[anonymous]9yThis is a good idea, considering that many lesswrongians are probably neuro-atypical!

E.g., I've seen a few studies purporting that "high intelligence" (which IIRC meant like 1.5 SD above average SAT scores) provides substantial protection against common cognitive biases. Yet I've never seen anyone take this into account when discussing "de-biasing".

4steven04619yHow would you take that into account? Does high intelligence provide more protection against some biases than others? Can we isolate what aspect of high intelligence provides the protection, and amplify that aspect?
-2Will_Newsome9yI personally wouldn't take it into account at all, because it's H&B research, i.e., untrustworthy and irrelevant to rationality, and also I do not condone trying to "de-bias" oneself. (Pretty sure the H&B consensus agrees with me on the dubious nature of "de-biasing", anyone know if I'm wrong?) Lukeprog might have answers to your questions, IIRC he's the one who sent me the papers in question.
4steven04619yWould you condone trying to de-bias oneself if you thought the research was trustworthy and relevant? That is, do you see an extra reason on top of those reasons not to engage in de-biasing?
1Will_Newsome9yYes, the first law of ecology [] (also known in another aspect as Chesterton's fence). There are exceptions but those exceptions only apply to people with abnormally accurate self models.
9MichaelVassar9yWhy expect unintended consequences to oppose ones preferences? The biases weren't created by processes that cared about your preferences.
9Jayson_Virissimo9yYeah, but our preferences were caused by the same thing as our biases, right? At the very least, shouldn't we expect our preferences to be highly entangled with our biases because of their common origin?

I felt the urge to upvote this article on a "more please" basis, but actually tl;dr'ed past the content once I'd read the summary. Anyone else?

Yep, me too. I don't think that's a problem, though. The content is practically an annotated bibliography, which needs to be there to substantiate the summary but doesn't need to be read unless you really want to.

7Klevador9yStill, I argue that you should read the bulk of the post. Reading just the summary may be like just reading the synopsis of a movie (if I may be so hubristic! :) instead of watching it. You 'get' the idea but you don't appreciate it as much, and it doesn't stick with you as much as if you watched it. Less mental associations. And to be more specific, you will miss, among other things, the supporting argument (aside from the obvious) for why you should make a point of avoiding bad experiences. Perhaps I should have included it in the summary.
7Randaly9yEvidently almost everybody, since nobody has pointed out the broken link here: "This research also supports the broaden-and-build [] theory of positive emotions by demonstrating that higher levels of happiness may expand an individual’s mindset to include thoughts of others." Which is a pity, because I thought the meat of the post added a lot to the (already completely awesome!) summary. (Also: there's a broken link.) ETA: Also, I see a lot of references to "(Aaker et al 2010)" throughout the post- is that the same as "(Aaker, Rudd, & Mogilner, 2010)," which is only cited once?
3Klevador9yFixed and fixed! How do you have such sharp eyes. Yes, and I don't learn well from outline-summaries only. I imagine that I would not gain much if I had read only the summary up top. The just-acquired lessons would quickly dissipate without the examples and explanations to reinforce them.
2Randaly9yThanks- I'm just following whatever extracts I find particularly interesting back to the original papers. (I found the bit about spare time leading to happiness particularly interesting, which is how I found the Aaker reference.) One more thing: In the sentence "Aside from making them happier, you will also improve your relationship with them via the Benjamin Franklin effect, which — unintuitively — makes people like you more if you ask them for favors.", the link to the wikipedia article on the Ben Franklin Effect links to this: [] Instead of to the article here: []
4Klevador9yDoes this mean that outline-summaries in posts like this are a bad idea, given that people can be very impatient? (BTW, before tl;dr-ing, try breathing deeply [] first. It may make you feel less impatient :p )

No no, outline summaries are a great idea! Just keep in mind that may be all someone reads ;-)

7wedrifid9yNo. I read the outline summary. I wouldn't have read just a wall of text. I may have scrolled through and read the section headings - but that gives me essentially the outline summary.
3undermind9yI found some of the content in the summary sufficiently noteworthy that I will remember it, regardless of the supporting evidence, and for the rest, the supporting evidence doesn't help. In particular, asking people for favours to give them the opportunity to be kind is a cool idea that is new to me, which I intend to start doing.
2[anonymous]9yI read about half of the article and skimmed the rest.
1juliawise9yMe too.

Don’t do ‘comparison shopping.’

I used to do less comparison shopping than I do now, and would occasionally regret certain purchases. I almost never have such regrets now. And comparison shopping itself feels more like play than work. Does this seem like enough reason to think that the advice doesn't apply to me, or is there something I'm overlooking?

2Dustin9yI've commented on this research before. In short, while it's plausible that I may be less happy with purchases made via comparison shopping, I'm overall less happy with the world where I don't do comparison shopping.
1dlthomas9yBetter still might (mind you, I said "might") be trading with someone else you trust - you do the comparison shopping for them, they do it for you, after communicating your criteria. That way, you get the best option available (or something reasonably close to it) while not eroding your satisfaction with thoughts of what could have been.
2RobFisher9ySee also the section on anticipation: "...the pleasure derived from window shopping for a dress may exceed the pleasure from actually acquiring the dress." I get happiness from the process of comparison shopping. It is part of the anticipation. Perhaps this advice needs further qualification.
2MaoShan9yBased on your contributions here, you are more aware than most people of the other biases at play when considering purchases. Therefore you are qualified to engage in psychologically "risky" behavior.
0John_Maxwell9yIt makes me uncomfortable to think that I might have made a purchase that was suboptimal, sometimes. So this point I just think things through thoroughly every time; it seems less stressful empirically.
0[anonymous]9ySeriously, I often do it just for fun. ("OMG can't wait for Ivy Bridge! It will make counterfactual-me's computer so much faster! /covet")

I think this would do well in Main.

3wedrifid9yYes, it most certainly doesn't belong here. Move it to main please author! (Whereupon Eliezer should promote it.)

1 karma point to go :)

eta: I have 19 karma at the moment.

Oh, wow. Welcome to lesswrong in that case! Best introductory post I recall seeing!

3Barry_Cotter9yShit. When I was reading through I suspected you were one of the remote literature researchers because this has the makings of a good literature review article I think.
0SusanBrennan9yI upvoted your post to a nice round 20. It's a much nicer number than 19 anyway.
4TheOtherDave9yI'm saddened that it's no longer prime.
3Danfly9yUpvoting to 31, which is quite a fantastic number, since it is both (aptly) a "happy" prime, as well as a "sexy" prime.
2Danfly9ySorry. I probably should have linked happy [] and sexy []. I was saying that the "happy" component fit well with the topic. Sexy was just an added bonus. To summarize: If you take a number, sum the squares of its digits to make a new number, then do the same with the next number and it eventually reaches one through that process, it is a "happy" number. "Happy prime" just refers to those prime numbers which are happy. Demonstration: 3^2+1^2=10 and 1^2+0^2=1 a sexy prime differs from another prime by 6 (in this case; 37).
0SusanBrennan9yYou forgot primorial.

Hi. First of all thanks for the immensely helpful summary of the literature!

Since you have gone through so much of the literature, I was wondering if you have come across any theories about the functional role of happiness?

I'm currently only aware of Kaj Sotala's post some time ago about how happiness regulates risk-taking. I personally think happiness does this because risk-taking is socially advantageous for high status folks. The theory is that happiness is basically a behavioural strategy pursued by those who have high status. As in, happiness is performed, not pursued. Depression and anxiety would be the opposite of happiness. I remember some studies showing how in primates the low status ones exhibit depression-like and anxious behavior.

It may simply be my ignorance of the literature, but it seems strange that all these (otherwise wonderful) empirical investigations into happiness are motivated only by a common folk theory of its function.

2khafra9yThe outlines of the performance theory seem good, and it feels introspectively correct as well. But if happiness is a high-status marker, why is it unattractive to women []?

The outlines of the performance theory seem good, and it feels introspectively correct as well. But if happiness is a high-status marker, why is it unattractive to women?

I took a look at the paper, and in particular the sample image they include:

My first impression was a lot more attraction to the female 'pride' picture than any of the other female images - while pride in females was found to be highly unattractive. Now I want to determine whether my preferences differ from some norm or whether this picture is an unusual case.

I do allow that much of my preference may have been determined simply due to the combination of hideously unflattering t-shirts and arms being up in the air compensating for that and actually making breasts evident. If giving all the people ghostly shirts was supposed to be some clever attempt to isolate the influence of clothing then it seems somewhat shortsighted. (Mind you if males were consistently not attracted to the 'pride' female despite it being the only one with apparent breasts then that is just all the more significant!)

Were those pictures seriously used in a psychological study? It strikes me as obvious that the 'pride' images would stand out for having much more implied animation. Though I could see attractiveness swinging both ways depending on viewer personality.

Edit: These seem to have been used in the actual study (via). Maybe that really is just an example?

Edit: These seem to have been used in the actual study (via). Maybe that really is just an example?

If those are the pictures, it looks an awful lot like they completely failed to control for the identities of the people in the pictures. For example, the "pride" group is better described as the "professional athlete" group.

7wedrifid9yYes, these images were even included in the published pdf of it. It would be useful to be able to see the other images that they used. Perhaps this image is an exception to the norm and the author included it rather than the most representative one because he got a crush on cute-pride-chick during the editing process.
6Nornagest9yOdd. Those look like stock photos, while the ones in the grandparent clearly aren't. I can see either being used pretty readily, but I'm having trouble coming up with a rationale for both.
6Viliam_Bur9ySimilar mistake. Most of "female neutral" pictures contain only the head; "female happy" has more examples with hands etc.; "female pride" is in a sport context; "female shame" has many full-body pictures. Authors of the study probably never heard about ceteris paribus [].
2NancyLebovitz9yThanks for tracking down the original images. They seem like much better choices than the pictures in the comment above here. Just an impression, but I think that something which can make men (and possibly women) attractive isn't pure sadness-- it's sadness which somehow conveys "but the right person can make me happy".
0John_D8yI personally think the original images used in the study are even worse choices, because at least there is some uniformity between displays of emotions taken from the article, which better control for possible confounders. Now for the actual pics used in the study. In the set of male pics that are supposed to display pride, there seem to be far more pics that convey athleticism or wealth, as others have pointed out. In the happiness pictures, there seem to be far more close-ups and profile pics, with the rest of the body being hidden from the viewer. I would argue that the shame pics are animated in comparison. Seems like an overall poor study based on these sample of pics, and certainly should not be a recommendation for men to not smile next time they are out in public.
0[anonymous]8yThis study is a little flawed. In the male example, the shame and especially the pride pictures look more animated, as opposed to just standing straight. When you see someone who is happy, are they just standing straight with their arms by their side? No, that is not the posture you would expect. The happiness picture doesn't look like a genuine display of happiness, while the pride and shame pictures, to me at least, convey the type of body language one would expect when seeing those emotions. I admit I don't have a good alternative explanation for the female pictures, but perhaps a wide smile is just attractive to men regardless of the posture.
5[anonymous]9yI thought about, well... what you say in your last paragraph even before reading your last paragraph. Hence, no idea of how to generalize my impression to people wearing ‘normal’ clothes.
3wedrifid9yThe way the 'prideful' posture emphasizes the breasts?
4SkyDK9yNope, pride definitely is more attractive for me due to the enhanced sense of curves. If this is supposed to proof something, I'd be highly suspicious of the results. I'm really bad a judging men, but I figure the pride one to be better there as well. The happy one seems to fake.
3NancyLebovitz9yI don't find male happiness unattractive in general, but the Happiness Man in the picture has a smile which strikes me as very spooky. Were those people feeling the actual emotions, or just asked to express them? The man seemed much better at shame (more effect on the body and the face) than the woman.
3wedrifid9yPOLL: Which of the female poses in the image [] above [] is the most attractive?

Poll Option: Pride is the most attractive of the female poses.

6wedrifid9yPoll Option: Happiness is the most attractive of the female poses.
4wedrifid9yPoll Option: Shame is the most attractive of the female poses.
1wedrifid9yPoll Option: Neutral is the most attractive of the female poses.
3[anonymous]9yI don't know; I'm a lot more attracted to the male pride picture, and there's no breasts in that one.
9Nisan9yThere are biceps though :3
4wedrifid9yI'm actually more attracted to the male pride picture than I am to the female neutral and shame pictures - despite generally identifying as a heterosexual male. I don't know or much mind whether it is the same kind of attraction in play but it just seems like there is so much more life emanating from those characters, so I feel drawn to them.
2Klevador9ySomething that distorts my assessment of the images is the female's dowdy clothing, unflattering on the female figure except in the pride image. She looks like a shapeless flour sack in the other three pics. On the male, the shirt seems 'alright', neutral.
2thomblake9yWow, that is really weird, if that's what they found.
1Eliezer Yudkowsky9yYou need some actual poll here, but yes, the pride image seems obviously more attractive. It is possible that the other confounders played a role, but I at least think that I find pride attractive generally.
6wedrifid9yOK. Come to think of it if I rate the pictures based on how happy they seem to me at first glance the 'pride' picture still wins out over 'happiness'. That quite possibly speaks primarily to how happy I feel when in the respective poses.
0khafra9yPride it is. What we need now is an experimental design to discern whether LWers prefer pride because we're contrarian; because wannabe-rationalists are less threatened by strong, confident women; because we're unusually attracted to prominent breasts; or some other reason.
4CuSithBell9yPurely out of scientific curiosity, I'm sure.
0RobinZ9yI was thinking that giving volunteer instructions on the poses they are to make and letting them take their own pictures with a foot-pedal to operate the shutter might work. Does anyone see a problem with that solution?
1Klevador9yGood question. Unfortunately I tried to focus entirely on 'how to become happier' in researching for this post, although a possible answer to your query is that happiness promotes [] prosocial behavior and that happiness can be infectious [] up to three degrees of separation, thereby making everyone more likely to engage in prosocial behavior.

I buy cat food and give it to random cats I meet in the city. This has extremely good cost:benefit ratio for happiness. The food is cheap and I only give each cat a little, but the act of feeding the cat makes me happy for a few hours. Because those cats are not mine, I have no additional costs. Try to beat that! :P

9TheOtherDave9yI used to take peanuts to a nearby park to feed squirrels, in much the same spirit. It had the additional benefit that I could eat the peanuts myself if I wanted, and it caused passersby to look at me funny (as I would not-infrequently have squirrels sitting on my lap and rummaging curiously through my pockets).
1ChrisHibbert9yMy significant other keeps a garden, and we have several productive fruit trees that we enjoy getting fruit from. Squirrels take a significant amount of fruit, and cats leave unwelcome surprises in the garden. We trap squirrels and remove them to county parks. (We don't do anything about the cats.) Marginally increasing the frequency of squirrels and cats is a negative externality for us. I'm glad you aren't feeding squirrels (or cats) near us.
0TheOtherDave9y(nods) Sounds like it works out well for both of us.
5gwern9yI see your one-shot cat food and raise you cat pennies [].
0John_Maxwell9yWhat city do you live in? I don't think I've ever been in a city that had enough cats for carrying cat food to seem worthwhile.
0Viliam_Bur9yTwo cats staying on the same place -- one near my home, another near my job. Chance of meeting 30% per cat per day + 1% random encounter. The cat food is dry, so it won't spoil; I keep a small ration in a small box in a pocket of my coat, carrying it is no problem. (The city is Bratislava [], but both my home and work are out of center.)

This is amazing! Well researched. I want to see an article like this on so many topics.

1MichaelVassar9yWow. I disagree exactly. It's a data-dump with little insight. Exactly what I don't want to see on LW.
8Jonathan_Graehl9yMaybe insight is better, but for people who haven't already studied everything, posts like this save a lot of time and suggest study of things that perhaps they hadn't realized were there.
6wedrifid9y"Insight" sounds altogether too much like "Speculative Just So bullshit". These are actual empirical findings pertaining to the expected outcomes for executing given behaviors and references to the evidence they are based on. The point isn't to gain 'insight', and any analysis of the data would be best as an investigation in more detail of what the precise indications of the data are, how the indicated behaviors can be most usefully executed and whether any of the summaries given of the findings (and even the findings expressed in the abstracts) are the correct interpretation of the data.
6Hul-Gil9yI would have liked some thoughts on/insight into the data posted as well; but all the same, summaries like this, that gather a lot of related but widely-dispersed information together, are very useful (especially as a quick reference or overview, or, as Jonathan says below, as a starting point for further research), and I definitely wouldn't mind seeing more of them.
3drethelin9y []
4Klevador9y []
0[anonymous]9y []
1Alicorn9yReally? How?

Humans pine for excess leisure but revealed preference shows that they find excess leisure stressful. People go stir crazy after 2-3 months. I can't say I wouldn't eventually find leisure boring, but I was unemployed for 8 months a couple years ago and it was unequivocally the greatest time in my life. The only lasting negative thoughts I had during that time were thoughts related to it ending. Don't get me wrong, I don't think I'm some wonderfully atypical snowflake, I suspect that many creative/intellectual types would love carte blanche to pursue random projects. But this proportion of the general populace is far smaller than the portion who profess to want it.

8[anonymous]9yI guess you somehow still had enough money to fulfil the couple bottom layers of Maslow's hierarchy of needs without much trouble, didn't you?
1Swimmer9639yWouldn't most people have enough savings to last 8 months? I'm still in university and I have enough savings to live at my current standard (~$1000/month expenses not including tuition) to live for...hmm, almost 2 years if I'm not in school and paying tuition during that time. Then again, I guess lifestyle expenses rise along with income after most people graduate, and they might rise faster.
7thomblake9yI was under the impression most people in America are in massive debt and have very little savings.
2Nornagest9yI've heard the same, but I'm kind of skeptical -- I haven't actually researched it, but the factoid usually seems to come up when someone's trying to push a narrative, which tends to be a warning sign. In particular, if mortgages and automotive debt are being counted, then most adults before retirement age might look pretty indebted on paper without that necessarily destroying their medium-term ability to stay solvent. On the other hand, standard financial advice seems to be to maintain six to twelve months' worth of savings, which suggests to me that most people don't.
2thomblake9yPersonally, because of student loans, mortgage (which doesn't really count), and trying to keep up an extravagant standard of living during lean years, justified in part by expectation of making insane amounts of money in the future. At this point, I have no savings because I'm in debt. I don't have any expectation that I won't be able to come up with however much money I might have saved in the case of an emergency, so the best use of my excess now is to pay off the debt, since interest rates are not in the favor of savings.
2Alicorn9yBecause credit card companies are financially disincentivized to send cards with instructions reading "How To Use Your Credit Card: Borrow our money for free by purchasing things you can afford and paying down your full balance on time, every time, leaving us to profit solely from merchant fees." Among other causes.
3TimS9yWe get to empirically test this assertion, because the new credit card regulations of the last few years have much more detail about the benefits of paying in full, on time.
0Alicorn9yIf they're long, complicated, and/or in fine print, I don't think that's a test of my assertion.
5TimS9yThe first page of the credit card bill now says how much it will cost in interest if you pay only the minimum, or only pay the minimum amount necessary to eventually pay off the debt (along with when that pay off would occur). It's fairly transparent. Which isn't to say that it overcomes (or attempts to overcome) cognitive biases people have about the relative size of different numbers. But it isn't hiding the ball.
-1Alicorn9yFair enough; I haven't seen one personally (I have a credit card but don't use it much and I think it would send the bills to an old address still if I did) but I'll call it at least a partial test of the assertion on your say-so.
0[anonymous]9yI don't know if this was meant to be serious or funny, but I upvoted because it made my laugh. :D
7[anonymous]9yI'd like to remind everyone here that “most people []” make less than $851 a year.
3Swimmer9639yExcellent point. Funny how brains tend to automatically edit that out, and claim "well, isn't it obvious I was talking about North America/Europe."
3[anonymous]9y(I'm not completely sure most people -- or even most unemployed adults -- in North America/Europe have enough savings to last 8 months, either.)
0RomeoStevens9yA maslow interpretation of my behavior would indicate that I respond extremely poorly to a lack of fulfillment of the second level (much more so than the average person). ANY reminder or actions I need to take in order to maintain my current standard of living angers and depresses me. Having 8 months worth of living expenses in the bank gave me a temporary fulfillment of level 2 which was the main cause of my happiness.
7Hul-Gil9yI have experienced the same thing. I have apparently endless capacity for leisure, possibly because I have an endless number of interests and hobbies to pursue then drop then pick back up. I've never understood people who don't want this kind of life; do they really exist? Can people get bored with leisure?
6handoflixue9yI'd suspect most people feel both stress from unemployment, and guilt when they are dependent on someone else (or possibly fear of losing this support). I can't really imagine a lot of situations where a person has months to themselves without triggering one of those two, so I'd expect most people aren't very good at evaluating the situation to begin with...
6[anonymous]9yMmm. Possibly, but remember that "unemployment" has a fairly arbitrary definition in most cases -- it measures the number of "potential workers" (as in members of the "labour force", which is tough to pin down exactly) who've looked for work within a given time period (usually about four weeks) but haven't been able to find it. It doesn't capture: homemakers, full-time students, incarcerated people, disabled folks who want to work within their abilities but can't find a job, people who've become discouraged from looking for work, people who prefer not to, the self-employed, involuntary retirees, the underemployed, stay-at-home parents, children, elderly folks, most disabled people, and independent farmers. It's possible to be neither "employed" nor "unemployed" by this measure. My point is, the stress probably isn't from lack-of-employment itself; that's probably a proximate cause, a triggering event that's playing on something else, like simple desperation. That's a matter of culture, I daresay. The Protestant Work Ethic and the self-supporting individual memes are not generalizable to humanity the world over. Which isn't to say it isn't a common reaction. Just that, as my ultimate point here goes, you should probably not conflate "an inability to meet one's own survival and psychological security needs that's recognizable within one's mental framework" with "leisure." I have lots of free time, in the sense that I'm unemployed and not carrying many obligations day-to-day, but it's hardly all leisure time, and there are things that need to be done in terms of practical upkeep even if that doesn't look like trading labor for biosurvival tickets.
2handoflixue9yThat sort of reinforces my point - simply "not having a job" doesn't equate to an actual increase in leisure ("Humans pine for excess leisure but revealed preference shows that they find excess leisure stressful" and "I can't say I wouldn't eventually find leisure boring, but I was unemployed for 8 months a couple years ago and it was unequivocally the greatest time in my life. ") Basically, I'm questioning whether the people studied actually had excess leisure, or just happened to meet certain standards like "not employed full-time in a standard corporation."
-1[anonymous]9ynod Downthread someone else mentioned some relevant ideas like "the petty rich" and other folks whose basic needs are met, but who aren't necessarily world-shakingly wealthy in their spending habits.
4Nornagest9yRetirement, among people with retirement savings and no major health issues yet? I'm sure that's been studied. There's also a number of professions where hiatuses of a couple months at a time are normal -- teaching comes to mind, as do the more lucrative forms of seasonal employment.
0NancyLebovitz9yThere are also people with inherited money. There's a category I call the petty rich. They have enough money that they don't need to work, so long as they maintain a middle class or lower lifestyle. I'm not sure how many there are, but I've met a few. I've never seen them discussed or studied-- they aren't exactly conspicuous.
3[anonymous]9yI guess some people can and other people can't, where by some I mean ‘a fraction most likely to be more than 5% and less than 95%’. (As for me, if I have nothing to do for a while I tend to just waste most of my time sleeping or aimlessly browsing the Web and similar addictive-but-not-so-fulfilling stuff, whereas if I'm very busy I spend what little spare time I have on actually fulfilling hobbies and socialising. So I do get bored with leisure, but that's just a result of akrasia and I guess if the next time I get a few spare months I beeminded [] (say) reading books/watching films/listening to albums/doing things I've always wanted to read/watch/listen/do but never got around to reading/watching/listening/doing, I wouldn't.) ETA: This guy [] did get bored with leisure, apparently.
1thomblake9yYeah, I find that very confusing too. But then, if pursuing random projects is in "leisure", then I don't really see the distinction between that and "not leisure". Maybe some people just sit around and watch paint dry, given the chance?
1Hul-Gil9yI was thinking of that; maybe some people equate leisure time with being directionless, and thus need externally-imposed goals?
5Apprentice9yDefine A as "the stuff I would spend my time doing if I got tenure". Define B as "the stuff I would spend my time doing if I became unemployed." I've been wondering how close A and B are to being identical.
9Viliam_Bur9yIf you are unemployed, you are running out of money, and you know the time is running out (unless you manage to make something that brings a lot of money soon). This anxiety can make a huge difference in how you will spent the time. Even if you made the same plans, I would expect more procrastination in situation B.

I think it would be excellent if people who try out any of these suggestions post the results.

1wedrifid9yEven if for no other reason than such examples being powerful motivating influences!
2NancyLebovitz9yI need to update towards optimism-- I was thinking about the possibility that the studies were wrong. Admittedly, a lot of them may be-- I don't trust studies about people where there's a lot of extrapolation from a simulated situation-- but the idea that there might be good news didn't even cross my mind.

Excellent article! The only problem I had was that almost every article cited in the spending on others section was written by one group, it would be nice to see other supporters, if they exist.

This makes Robin Hanson's depiction of future brain emulation societies pretty bleak if the basic happiness structure of human minds isn't changed drastically. In his prediction, emulations (ems) will mostly live at near subsistence level and will have to work almost solely on heteronomous goals given by a manager that can probably compel you to provide extreme degrees of cognitive transparency.

Even in modern Western society, there's a big problem with heteronomous goals. I think this is one area where self-hacking is extremely important. I'm planning to w... (read more)

This is Tao Te Ching for the 21st century, and I mean that in a good way. I appreciate the time you took to research and aggregate the information.

Gut reaction: Working out has an externality. Muscle tone applies a cost on others who must devote more of their time (which can be measured in dollars, by the way) toward the positional signalling game of fitness. Does this mean we should avoid conspicuous health?

Second reaction: I don't like this advice. Maybe I value other goals higher than happiness.

8gwern9yDoes muscle tone not contribute to genuine health and longevity? That's a positive externality being generated right there.
3b1shop9yDoesn't buying a nice house contribute to genuine peace and stability while forcing a potential spendthrift to start saving? That's an internalized benefit. Just because something has benefits doesn't mean it has externalized costs.
2gwern9yOr does it contribute to speculative bubbles, and increase unemployment [] by forcing 'stability' (inflexibility & stasis)?
1b1shop9yFor the record, I agree that home ownership isn't worth it for most prices. Bad example on my part. I stand by my original point. Just because working out has benefits doesn't mean it's not without negative externalities.
4gwern9ySure, but this is something that could be said of everything - everything has consequences which one has not foreseen. That's the first law of ecology []. Unless you have specific reason to bring that up, or good evidence that the obvious benefits are outweighed by subtler negative externalities that others have noticed, or something, why are we discussing it?

Because the linked-to study simply says "conspicuous consumption has negative externalities" and the conclusion given is "Avoid Conspicuous Consumption." I call foul.

‘positional goods’ which, by definition, cannot be augmented, because they rely solely on not being available to others.


... the production of positional goods in the form of luxuries, such as exceedingly expensive watches or yachts, is a waste of productive resources, as overall happiness is thereby decreased rather than increased.

^ This is specific to wealth and cannot (necessarily) be said of other forms of status, such as fitness.

1Good_Burning_Plastic5yThat's a pecuniary externality. People of your same gender will find it harder to compete, but people of your preferred gender will have more attractive potential mates available.
1Klevador9yThe term "conspicuous consumption" [] is commonly applied to displays of (financial) wealth; the recommendation to avoid conspicuous consumption does not imply that you should avoid all forms of conspicuous superiority. I'm not sure that fitness-as-status is so closely analogous to wealth-as-status.
3hvass9yFor heterosexual men, one reason to exhibit conspicuous consumption is the dating game. :-) And for everyone else, I think the Halo Effect is quite a good reason as well especially for clothes. But focus on experiences of course, just don't go into a complete extreme.
3b1shop9yIt's the same reasoning as the "avoid conspicuous consumption" lemma, and it could also be applied to education-as-status, lawncare-as-status, fashion-as-status, art-as-status or karma-as-status. Maybe the lesson could be rewritten as "Conspicuous Consumption has Costs on Others"? That seems like an unbiased reading of that study. But I'm not even sure if I agree with that. If conspicuous consumption encourages others to become productive members of society out of envy, then it has its societal benefits.
-1Klevador9yYou seem to be saying that the rules of the game of wealth-as-status are the same as those for fitness-as-status, to take one of your examples. But this is not at all clear to me. Wealth can be stolen and given away. Wealth can be amassed. Fitness is accessible to most people in a way that wealth is not. I'd say that it is an overgeneralization of the findings.
1Jayson_Virissimo9yIn what way is fitness accessible to most people but wealth is not?
0[anonymous]9yMake that "to most people in the developed world", then. If I want more fitness, I just have to exercise more and eat better, which the majority of people in the developed world could afford with little trouble if they wanted to. (Programs like the 5BX take less than half an hour a day -- personally I use Goodbye Couch [].) If I want more wealth (and here we're talking about an amount of wealth that can buy "exceedingly expensive watches or yachts", not just a couple hundred more dollars per months) there's very little I can do to reliably achieve that.
1NancyLebovitz9yThe interesting question might be whether the usual way of signalling health (muscle bulk and low fat-- more bulk for men than women) is as closely connected to actual health (longevity, energy, enjoyment of life, disease resistance, fun, probably more....) as the culture assumes. What's a optimal pursuit of looking healthy?
1wedrifid9yAs far as I am aware the 'low fat' signal is a cultural idiosyncrasy. All else being equal it's a signal of somewhat less disease resistance.
0[anonymous]9yWhy are people assuming that the relationship between fat and health must be monotonic?
1wedrifid9yThey aren't. That would be crazy.
3[anonymous]9ySo, from the fact that underweight people are less healthy than neither-underweight-nor-overweight people it doesn't follow that overweight people are also healthier than neither-underweight-nor-overweight people, and hence that there's no good reason (other than signalling) for people to not want to be overweight, does it? (Or am I misunderstanding what the whole issue is about?)
-2[anonymous]9yLet's work this out TDT-style: if the right answer to the question "should you exercise" is "no (because that would make others jealous unless they exercise too, because then they wouldn't look as good as you)" you get a world with people who don't exercise. If it is "yes (because then you'd look better)" you get a world with people who do exercise. I'd pretty much prefer the latter world. IOW, I'm not sure that this game is purely positional (i.e. zero-sum).
9wedrifid9yI hate seeing TDT agents described as thinking like that. Because they just don't.
1MichaelVassar9yWhy is a request to upvote being upvoted?

It's not a request to upvote - it's a statement of approval. And as per Why our kind can't cooperate, vacuous statements of approval or agreement are upvote-worthy, if only because of their rarity.

6John_Maxwell9yAn even better idea would be to send the author a private message in appreciation; that wouldn't decrease the signal-to-noise ratio but would have the same positive reinforcement effect.
3drethelin9yIf you think this is bad you should see my comment on the hpmor thread that got upvoted 12 points for just agreeing with the parent
2[anonymous]9yYeah, [] is always full of comments in HPMOR discussions. (As of now, only one of this week's top ten comments is not in a HPMOR thread.) It bothers the hell out of me.
4DanPeverley9yEveryone goes into those threads primed to be friendly to the other people, because they are all members of the same fan-fiction reading in-group. There is also a shift from "on a rationality site" mode to "talking about media" mode, where rigor in voting rationale tends to become somewhat more lax. I don't mind, but I'm part of the in-group so that's to be expected.
3Dias9yOn the plus side, if that thread has a lot of new people drawn by HPMOR, so we may not want to subject them to such stringent standards. On the other hand, I think we upvote (orrather, don't downvote enough) in the rest of LW too much anyway.
-2[anonymous]9yBecause someone wants to see more comments like that?

That's well done.

Can you make one about taking over the world?

0Paulovsk9yyeah, I'd love a step-by-step guide.

Well done!

Learn about the science of happiness. Internalize the lessons in this article and in here.

The link at the end of this sentence is broken.


Mode note: Fixed the old semi-broken HTML formatting for this post. Old formatting is still available as a revision.

Hm, I don't see anything in there at this moment; and I'm not confident enough to say that I know everything in the article but...

Is there any research on how entertainment *types affects happiness levels? I don't mean genres necessarily, but let's say, low cognitive load works like Bond movies, summer action flicks and slapstick comedies versus 'artsy' high cognitive load works like Schindler's list, Shakespeare plays and hard scifi.

So what I have is two apparently conflicting pieces of information. I know that people like to put off the latter for the fo... (read more)

This needs to be broken up into smaller, more digestible sub-articles. It's too much to take in all at once.

7Klevador9yI don't know... you don't have to take it in all at once. You can read just one section at a time, after all. Each section has a link to it in the summary. What is the added advantage in splitting it up?
2Randaly9yI think the length works as is. (I did spread my reading out over 2 days, though.)
0John_Maxwell9yLet's think in consequentialist terms here. You obviously put forth a lot of useful effort, thanks for that! But realistically, it seems plausible that the material is not being presented in a way that is maximally accessible, and your post could potentially be even more awesome than it already is! I'm not suggesting you change anything at this point, just pointing stuff out.
0Klevador9y^ But, that can be said of too many things. I don't find it meaningful. e.g. 'It's plausible that Harry Potter has not been written in the best possible way.' Of course it's plausible, but the consideration of its plausibility does not contribute to making better-informed decisions. It contributes no useful information!
3John_Maxwell9yRight. The real question is how much the post could improve given an hour's effort; in other words, how much improvement could you buy for an hour of labor. And I'm suggesting that you could get a pretty good deal.

How do Philippe et al distinguish "obsessive" from "harmonious" passion?

3Klevador9yGood catch! Here is their definition (will update the main post later). Bolding mine:

Spend on others, especially people you are close to.

This one sounds dubious to me if you happen to be rich. I always thought that if I were rich, I would make a public precommitment only to give away money to worthy charities, so as to avoid worry that anyone trying to get close to me was really trying to get close to the money. Maybe it doesn't work out that way?

8TheOtherDave9yIt seems simpler to just include my money in what I identify with. I mean, it doesn't bug me that people trying to get close to me might really be trying to get close to my sense of humor, or my appearance, or my kind demeanor, or various other attributes of mine. Why make an exception for money? But the more traditional solution to this "problem" is to make friends among people with roughly the same level of wealth.
2Desrtopa9yI wouldn't mind letting people who get close to me partake of my sense of humor, attractiveness, or good nature, because these aren't resources that are diminished by being shared among others. But if people want to get close to me in order to induce me to distribute my expendable resources among them, I'm going to feel resentful, because anything I spend on them is an opportunity cost, and they're faking signals that would qualify them for special consideration in my utility function. If they weren't pretending to enjoy my company for any other reason, and were open about just wanting to be where the money was, I would feel comfortable rebuffing them. (I somehow failed to notice this response until just now.)
0TheOtherDave9y(nods) Yeah, I resonate emotionally with this, but on consideration I don't really endorse it. Even things like humor and kindness are functions of attention, which is also a limited resource, and attractiveness plays a complex role in social-status economies. If someone were open about just pretending to be my friend in order to get access to those resources, it seems I ought to feel just as comfortable rebuffing them, although I expect that in practice I would mostly be confused, since I do not have as clear an understanding of social resources as I do of money.
3Desrtopa9yHaving friends at all costs attention, but I don't invest extra attentional resources into being funny or kind to people around me. If anything, it takes less energy for me to be friendly and funny around people I'm comfortable with than it does for me to be distant or awkward around people I'm uncomfortable with. If I'm going to invest my attention into spending time with people at all, I'd rather they be positive interactions.
0TheOtherDave9yInteresting. It definitely does consume extra resources for me. I became most vividly aware of this after my stroke, when attentional resources were very scarce, and I often ran out of them in mid-interaction, and even basic social interaction became incredibly exhausting; my irritation about this very much resembled the feeling of having all my employed friends insisting on going out to dinner when I was unemployed and poor. (I don't care about it so much anymore, in either area, because I'm now running a large surplus of both money and attention.)

These are some key takeaways (stolen without permission from elsewhere...)


  • Be grateful and count your blessings (literally). Recycle happiness by reminiscing about good experiences.
  • Think of counterfactuals. (“If I didn’t have this positive thing, what do I lose?”)
  • Breathe deeply. Expand your time — by slowing down.
  • Actively want to be happier. Motivation and investment matter.
  • Stay in the present.
  • Be passionate, but don’t obsess.


  • Socialize with close others.
  • Associate with happy people.
  • Give the people around you opportunities to be gen
... (read more)
0Jiro5yThis is good advice when targeted at some people but the people most likely to hear it are probably the people who would be worst off listening to it. []
0[anonymous]5yOh my bananas, that SSC article is astounding. What excellent ideas (still eternally frustrated that he, like EY take an eternity to get to their point, whereas you accurately summarised it in 1.5 lines like I prefer...)

Alright... after reading through much of this, a certain line struck me over and over again.

Actively want to be happier. Motivation and investment matter.

I have only one question.


(To clarify: I mean: Why be happy? Why want to be happy? How is it useful? What 'good' is happiness?)

7RichardKennaway9yI agree with Will Newsome's comment [], especially the second paragraph. Looking for "happiness" as something distinct from and on top of living the life you truly want is like going to London and looking for "London". A signpost pointing to "London" is only useful when you are far from it.
5Raemon9yIt's some people's terminal value. It's okay if it's not yours. Is there a more complicated reason why you feel "fulfilling your potential to impact the world" is important?
1Logos019yNot fulfilling the potential itself, but rather the capacity to do so, (which can only properly be measured by the actualization / acting-upon-of said capacity). As to why -- well, fundamentally it's the notion that maximized instrumentality is the maximally optimal instrumental state. From there the question becomes; "is maximized instrumentality useful?" That is a "self-proving" terminal value. One need only ask the question to see that it implies its answer. "Is being useful useful?" Well... yes. Whatever it is you want to do or achieve is transparent / irrelevant to this. Being useful is useful. The "use" of being useful is that it's useful. These are essentially tautological statements. So when I ask, "what's the use of being happy" -- saying "It makes you happy" is true (tautologically) but not an expression of utility, whereas having utility is useful because it's useful is also tautologically true but is an expression of utility.
0tog9ySurely a self-proving value is one where the question "Is X valuable?" is self-proving?
0Logos019yIndeed. Which is why happiness is not a terminal value.
2Zaine9yI've read your other responses, and while I don't think my experience will assist you in an attempt to feel the emotion, it may assist in your ability to understand the emotion's desirability. I find myself more productive when I'm happy; my mind has less cluttered thoughts, due to less anxiety and cognitive duress (I can only best describe this as a state when my subconscious works overtime on thoughts I'm only barely conscious of, and each time I try to deeply contemplate a new thought, somewhere along the halfway point it's unwillingly relegated to my subconscious as something I'm anxious over pops to the top of my mind). I also notice a correlation between times I am unhappy, and a lowering in my self-confidence. Normally my confidence hovers right below what I would consider 'a level of confidence conducive to hubris', and when happy, it can tend to spill over into this danger zone. When unhappy, my confidence becomes akin to the normative level of confidence I've observed most people whom I've encountered to likely possess. This diminishing of confidence too lessens my productivity, and to reestablish my normative confidence level, I must then end my unhappiness. Thus, for me, over-abundant happiness can be dangerous, but wading just above the happiness threshold gives me clarity of mind and purposeful focus. Hope this helped elucidate happiness's utility for you. Cheers!
0Logos019yOne fo the many things I dislike about the English language is that it does not readily acknowledge that "happy" is no excluded middle.
0Zaine9yI consider my normative state to be just under or around the 'happy' threshold, which I'd consider as between happiness and unhappiness. Happiness essentially equates to a certain chemical balance in the brain, and the same holds true for unhappiness. When the brain releases neurotransmitters equitably, I'd postulate the brain's chemical balance to reflect neutral emotions. As an aside, I've heard genuinely, innocently laughing releases endorphins just as effectively as exercise; what do you emotively experience when these endorphins release? If you want to hack happiness, exercise or some media you find consistently hilarious might work through pure chemistry. (Note: I may be mistaken in the neuroscience, though doubt it; I'm working on a piece of paper that declares proficiency in the field.)
0adamisom9yMight I recommend following Zaine's description with this paragraph from Luke's How To Be Happy: IgnoreWe all want to be happy, as apparently you don't, but continue with and happiness is useful for other things, too.2 For example, happiness improves physical health,3 improves creativity,4 and even enables you to make better decisions.5 (It's harder to be rational when you're unhappy.6) EDIT: note that the formatting is off in copy and paste. Comments do not support subscripts. numbers 2-6 refer to notes in the article
2fubarobfusco9yMight be fun? Sure beats the alternative? It's compatible with all the good drugs and keeps you off all the bad ones?
1Logos019yOkay. So what? Does it? Why? What is the alternative? How is 'happy' better? I can't help but not that this is post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Let's engage in a bit of an exercise. I am a thirty year old man. I have never in my life experienced happiness. I have no prospects of becoming happy. Everyone I have ever seen who was happy seemed, in many fundamental ways, contemptible to me: they were complacent, they were 'satisfied'; they settled and lacked any driving ambition or devotion to achieving the uttermost limits of what they could achieve or become. They did not utilize the maximum of their potential to impact the world, and instead... seem less. Explain to me why I should want to be like that. What is useful about this? Why is it good? I am open to total revision of my worldview. I come to this dialogue with a history that I relate only to reveal my preconceptions; that they might be accounted for. So to hug the hypothesis: "What's so great about being happy?"
6RichardKennaway9yDid these people differ in this respect from people who were not happy? And does the post hoc propter hoc thing apply here also? ETA: If "happiness" is the state of living the life you truly want, then if your wants are small, "happiness" will be easily achieved, but if your wants are large, not so easily. You will therefore observe of people that on average, the greater their ambition, the less their happiness; the greater their happiness, the less their ambition. It would be an error to read the wrong causality into this correlation, and attempt to achieve happiness "by lopping off our desires, ... like cutting off our feet, when we want shoes." (Jonathan Swift) "Happiness" is neither to be aimed at nor avoided. Doing what you truly want is to be aimed at, and not avoided.
0Logos019ySo then you reject altogether the core premise of the article, which also stated; "Actively want to be happier. Motivation and investment matter." Of course, I can also note that the only way, from my perspective, to guarantee your maximal significance (in terms of material impact upon the world) -- is to always strive for something you don't have; to wish to be more than you are in every possible sense of the word... including the efficacy with which you strive for more. In other words; to 'condemn' yourself to always be incapable of doing what you "truly want" -- because you will never, ever be good enough at getting better.
0RichardKennaway9yWhat are you doing about it?
0Logos019yThat question segfaults in my parser.
1RichardKennaway9yI meant, borrowing your words, are you consumed with a driving ambition or devotion to achieving the uttermost limits of what you could achieve or become, utilizing the maximum of your potential to impact the world? Are you always striving for something you don't have; wishing to be more than you are in every possible sense of the word... including the efficacy with which you strive for more? And if so, what are you doing about it?
4Logos019yNot as much as I should be. 1) Completely overhauling my professional capacity and career-path. In the last two years I've changed tracks to the point where my income has doubled year-over-year from that point, and am set to another 'doubling'. 2) I am systematically seeking out those areas where I am most deficient and am seeking means to bypass, exploit, or otherwise mitigate or account for those deficiencies. I have had setbacks and failures across the board, but I do not allow them to stop me. I have had a total collapse of my professional, personal, social, and romantic lives/livelihoods on more than one occassion, and in each instance I've "dusted myself off and picked back up again" as it were. I'm currently working on how to rebuild my social life (as it is utterly lacking) but I suspect that once my fiscal situation becomes stabilized at the newly higher point I'll have more attentional reserves available to dedicate to this. Another area I am constantly lacking in since my teen years is my physical excellence and dietary habits. I don't have the cognitive/attentional reserves to address the exercise regimen just yet, but that's coming. The diet I also am working on; exposing myself to new foods and food combinations in order to expand my pallatte (as an autist this is an exceptional challenge for me in ways that are non-obvious.) None of these things are, to be quite frank, particularly pleasant. I typically can't stand people for example; and though I have been told time and again I make an "excellent" host/guest/conversationalist/party-goer... it's physically exhausting to me (this is related to cognitive deficiencies on my part; I am unable to 'filter' out things and must consciously assign attentional levels to all things around me -- try staying perfectly alert in complex settings for, say, an hour or two and you'll get why being around groups of people is exhausting to me.). Despite this I have raised that as a priority on my regimen because being
0RichardKennaway9ySounds like the right track. To answer your earlier question: Pretty much. I'd rather do what I want than pursue fuzzies. The cake is a lie.
0Zaine9yHave you read Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder? It's a non-fiction book recording the story of Dr. Paul Farmer, a tremendously benevolent epidemiologist that shares your worldview, does all he can to medically assist the poor (specifically, the Haitian poor), and still cannot meet the standards he sets himself. However, Kidder's depictions of Farmer's personality portray him as a happy man. Perhaps the book will be of some help, if you indeed have not yet read it.
0Logos019yI'm quite certain that the vast majority of people who ever encountered me in meatspace would make the mistake of thinking that I am a happy person. I laugh, I smile, I go through all of the motions. I am upbeat and concerned with the wellbeing of others. I am patient to a fault, and nigh unto never show any signs of any kind of being foul-mannered or intemperate. Those who know me when I am ... myself -- know a very different person. They are few.
0Zaine9yThis is still in line with Kidder's depiction of Farmer. In one scene, Farmer has dinner with two close colleagues with whom he's worked a long time. Kidder has been invited by Farmer, but compared to his usual, jovial self, Farmer blows up at one of his colleagues and beleaguers the colleague on how they are not serving the people who need them most (poor people) first. Kidder, shocked at how Farmer so blatantly torments and manipulates his colleague into capitulating to Farmer's wishes, asks the other colleague whether this is normal. She responds, "You think that was bad? What he was doing to Jim was nothing. On a a scale of one to ten, that was about a five." Regardless, the book both educates and entertains; I recommend at least checking it out.

Great post! I'm going to use as much of it as I can.

I think it might be difficult to apply some of these, since I notice a good deal of my unhappiness is not affected by changes in thought or outward motions, and it can be hard to translate knowing you should try something into actually applying it. (But both of these can be mitigated: smiling, for instance, really does make me feel a bit happier even if I'm forcing the smile, and I'm sure there are plenty of articles about akrasia, here on LessWrong.)

Prefer experiential purchases; avoid materialistic g

... (read more)

Overall, it is a good explanation supported by evidence, however I would like to see a followup with perhaps some different ways to implement that kind of thinking.

Why did OP delete her account?

0entirelyuseless5yMy understanding was that their username was recognizable by people who knew them in real life and they wanted to make sure that did not happen.
0gjm5yLooking at the comments, it looks to me as if the OP didn't delete their account -- there are multiple comments below, with username still attached, that appear to be by the OP. Is there a mechanism for deleting just the association between an account and a single post, or something?
0entirelyuseless5yI see many comments with [deleted] but none with the username, maybe you are looking at different comments. Or it could be the result of some error.
0gjm5yI see all [] of [] these [] comments [] as [] having [] an author (the same author). They all seem to me to be clearly by the OP.
0entirelyuseless5yOk. I had assumed the main post was by someone else with a deleted account who appears in the comments. But it looks like you're right.

It's hard to resolve this with my productivity (for effective altruism) goals.

The following quote is misattributed to Ahuvia, (2002)

This research also supports the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions by demonstrating that higher levels of happiness may expand an individual’s mindset to include thoughts of others.

The quote comes from Aknin, Dunn, & Norton, (2011a), p. 352.

Also, this post has been absurdly useful to me. Fantastic job! :)