Part of the sequence: The Science of Winning at Life
One day a coworker said to me, "Luke! You're, like, the happiest person I know! How come you're so happy all the time?"
It was probably a rhetorical question, but I had a very long answer to give. See, I was unhappy for most of my life,1 and even considered suicide a few times. Then I spent two years studying the science of happiness. Now, happiness is my natural state. I can't remember the last time I felt unhappy for longer than 20 minutes.
That kind of change won't happen for everyone, or even most people (beware of other-optimizing), but it's worth a shot!
We all want to be happy, 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) So, as part of a series on how to win at life with science and rationality, let's review the science of happiness.
The correlates of happiness
Earlier, I noted that there is an abundance of research on factors that correlate with subjective well-being (individuals' own assessments of their happiness and life satisfaction).
Factors that don't correlate much with happiness include: age,7 gender,8 parenthood,9 intelligence,10 physical attractiveness,11 and money12 (as long as you're above the poverty line). Factors that correlate moderately with happiness include: health,13 social activity,14 and religiosity.15 Factors that correlate strongly with happiness include: genetics,16 love and relationship satisfaction,17 and work satisfaction.18
But correlation is not enough. We want to know what causes happiness. And that is a trickier thing to measure. But we do know a few things.
Happiness, personality, and skills
Genes account for about 50% of the variance in happiness.19 Even lottery winners and newly-made quadriplegics do not see as much of a change in happiness as you would expect.20 Presumably, genes shape your happiness by shaping your personality, which is known to be quite heritable.21
So which personality traits tend to correlate most with happiness? Extroversion is among the best predictors of happiness,22 as are conscientiousness, agreeableness, self-esteem, and optimism.23
What if you don't have those traits? The first thing to say is that you might be capable of them without knowing it. Introversion, for example, can be exacerbated by a lack of social skills. If you decide to learn and practice social skills, you might find that you are more extroverted than you thought! (That's what happened to me.) The same goes for conscientiousness, agreeableness, self-esteem, and optimism - these are only partly linked to personality. They are to some extent learnable skills, and learning these skills (or even "acting as if") can increase happiness.24
The second thing to say is that lacking some of these traits does not, of course, doom you to unhappiness.
Happiness is subjective and relative
Happiness is not determined by objective factors, but by how you feel about them.25
Happiness is also relative26: you'll probably be happier making $25,000/yr in Costa Rica (where your neighbors are making $13,000/yr) than you will be making $80,000/yr in Beverly Hills (where your neighbors are making $130,000/yr).
Happiness is relative in another sense, too: it is relative to your expectations.27 We are quite poor at predicting the strength of our emotional reactions to future events. We overestimate the misery we will experience after a romantic breakup, failure to get a promotion, or even contracting an illness. We also overestimate the pleasure we will get from buying a nice car, getting a promotion, or moving to a lovely coastal city. So: lower your expectations about the pleasure you'll get from such expenditures.
Flow and mindfulness
You may have heard of the famous studies28 showing that people are happiest when they are in a state of "flow." Flow is the state you're in when you are fully engaged in a task that is interesting, challenging, and intrinsically rewarding to you. This is the experience of "losing yourself in the moment" or, as sports players say, "being in the zone."
Finding flow has largely to do with performing tasks that match your skill level. When a task is far beyond your skill level, you will feel defeated. When a task is too easy, you'll be bored. Only when a task is challenging but achievable will you feel good about doing it. I'm reminded of the state troopers in Super Troopers, who devised strange games and challenges to make their boring jobs passable. Myrtle Young made her boring job at a potato chip factory more interesting and challenging by looking for potato chips that resembled celebrities, and pulling them off the conveyor belts for her collection.
If you're struggling with negative thoughts, achieving flow is probably the best medicine. Contrary to popular wisdom, forced positive thinking often makes things worse.29 Trying to not think about Upsetting Thought X has the same effect as trying to not think about pink elephants: you can't help but think about pink elephants.
While being "lost in the moment" may provide some of your happiest moments, research has also shown that when you're not in flow, taking a step outside the moment and practicing "mindfulness" - that is, paying attention to your situation, your actions, and your feelings - can reduce chronic pain and depression30, reduce stress and anxiety31, and produce a wide range of other positive effects.32
How to be happier
Happiness, then, is an enormously complex thing. Worse, we must remember the difference between experienced happiness and remembered happiness. I can only scratch the surface of happiness research in this tiny post. In short, there is no simple fix for unhappiness; no straight path to bliss.
Moreover, happiness will be achieved differently for different people. A person suffering from depression due to chemical imbalance may get more help from a pill than from learning better social skills. A healthy, extroverted, agreeable, conscientious woman can still be unhappy if she is trapped in a bad marriage. Some people were raised by parents whose parenting style did not encourage the development of healthy self-esteem,33 and they will need to devote significant energy to overcome this deficit. For some, the road to happiness is long. For others, it is short.
Below, I review a variety of methods for becoming happier. Some of them I discussed above; many, I did not.
These methods are ranked roughly in descending order of importance and effect, based on my own reading of the literature. You will need to think about who you are, what makes you happy, what makes you unhappy, and what you can achieve in order to determine which of the below methods should be attempted first. Also, engaging any of these methods may require that you first gain some mastery over procrastination.
Here, then, are some methods for becoming happier34:
- If you suffer from serious illness, depression, anxiety, paranoia, schizophrenia, or other serious problems, seek professional help first. Here's how.
- Even if you don't need professional help, you may benefit from some self-exploration and initial guidance from a reductionistic, naturalistic counselor like Tom Clark.
- Develop the skills and habits associated with extroversion. First, get some decent clothes and learn how to wear them properly. If you're a guy, read these books. If you're a girl, ask your girlfriends or try these books. Next, learn basic social skills, including body language. If you're really introverted, practice on Chatroulette or Omegle first. Next, spend more time with other people, making small talk. Go to meetups and CouchSurfing group activities. Practice your skills until they become more natural, and you find yourself enjoying being in the company of others. Learn how to be funny and practice that, too.
- Improve your self-esteem and optimism. This is tricky. First, too much self-esteem can lead to harmful narcissism.35 Second, it's not clear that a rationalist can endorse several standard methods for improving one's self esteem (self-serving bias, basking in reflected glory, self-handicapping)36 because they toy with self-deception and anti-epistemology. But there are a few safe ways to increase your self-esteem and optimism. Make use of success spirals, vicarious victory, and mental contrasting, as described here.
- Improve your agreeableness. In simpler terms, this basically means: increase your empathy. Unfortunately, little is currently known (scientifically) about how to increase one's empathy.37 The usual advice about trying to see things from another's perspective, and thinking more about people less fortunate than oneself, will have to do for now. The organization Roots of Empathy may have some good advice, too.
- Improve your conscientiousness. Conscientiousness involves a variety of tendencies: useful organization, strong work ethic, reliability, planning ahead, etc. Each of these individual skills can be learned. The techniques for overcoming procrastination are useful, here. Some people report that books like Getting Things Done have helped them become more organized and reliable.
- Develop the habit of gratitude. Savor the good moments throughout each day.38 Spend time thinking about happy memories.39 And at the end of each day, write down 5 things you are grateful for: the roof over your head, your good fortune at being born in a wealthy country, the existence of Less Wrong, the taste of chocolate, the feel of orgasm... whatever. It sounds childish, but it works.40
- Find your purpose and live it. One benefit of religion may be that it gives people a sense of meaning and purpose. Without a magical deity to give you purpose, though, you'll have to find out for yourself what drives you. It may take a while to find it though, and you may have to dip your hands and mind into many fields. But once you find a path that strongly motivates you and fulfills you, take it. (Of course, you might not find one purpose but many.) Having a strong sense of meaning and purpose has a wide range of positive effects.41 The 'find a purpose' recommendation also offers an illustration of how methods may differ in importance for people. 'Find a purpose' is not always emphasized in happiness literature, but for my own brain chemistry I suspect that finding motivating purposes has made more difference in my life than anything else on this list.
- Find a more fulfilling job. Few people do what they love for a living. Getting to that point can be difficult and complicated. You may find that doing 10 other things on this list first is needed for you to have a good chance at getting a more fulfilling job. To figure out which career might be full of tasks that you love to do, a RIASEC personality test might help. In the USA, O*NET can help you find jobs that are in-demand and fit your personality.
- Improve your relationship with your romantic partner, or find a different one. As with finding a more fulfilling job, this one is complicated, but can have major impact. If you know your relationship isn't going anywhere, you may want to drop it so you can spend more time developing yourself, which will improve future relationships. If you're pretty serious about your partner, there are many things you can do to improve the relationship. Despite being touted widely, "active listening" doesn't predict relationship success.42 Tested advice for improving the chances of relationship success and satisfaction include: (1) do novel and exciting things with your partner often43, (2) say positive things to and about your partner at least 5 times more often than you say negative things44, (3) spend each week writing about why your relationship is better than some others you know about45, (4) qualify every criticism of your partner with a review of one or two of their positive qualities46, and (5) stare into each other's eyes more often.47
- Go outside and move your body. This will improve your attention and well-being.48
- Spend more time in flow. Drop impossible tasks in favor of tasks that are at the outer limits of your skillset. Make easy and boring tasks more engaging by turning them into games or adding challenges for yourself.
- Practice mindfulness regularly. When not in flow, step outside yourself and pay attention to how you are behaving, how your emotions are functioning, and how your current actions work toward your goals. Meditation may help.
- Avoid consumerism. The things you own do come to own you, in a sense. Consumerism leads to unhappiness.49 Unfortunately, you've probably been programmed from birth to see through the lens of consumerism. One way to start deprogramming is by watching this documentary about the deliberate invention of consumerism by Edward Bernays. After that, you may want to sell or give away many of your possessions and, more importantly, drastically change your purchasing patterns.
Note that seeking happiness as an end might be counterproductive. Many people report that constantly checking to see if they are happy actually decreases their happiness - a report that fits with the research on "flow." It may be better to seek some of the above goals as ends, and happiness will be a side-effect.
Remember: Happiness will not come from reading articles on the internet. Happiness will come when you do the things research recommends.
Next post: The Good News of Situationist Psychology
Previous post: How to Beat Procrastination
1 From a young age through my teenage years, I was known as the pessimist in my family. Of course, I would retort I was merely a realist. Making happiness work within me made me an optimist. These days I'm pessimistic about many things: For example I think there's about a 50/50 chance the human species will survive this century. But it's a kind of rationalistic, emotionally detached pessimism. It doesn't affect my mood.
2 Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener (2005).
3 Steptoe et al. (2005).
4 Isen et al. (1987); Isen (2004); Fredrickson (1998).
5 Isen (2002); Morris (1999).
6 Beck (2008); Ellis (2001).
7 Age and happiness are unrelated (Lykken 1999), age accounting for less than 1% of the variation in people's happiness (Inglehart 1990; Myers & Diener 1997).
8 Despite being treated for depressive disorders twice as often as men (Nolen-Hoeksema 2002), women report just as high levels of well-being as men do (Myers 1992).
9 Apparently, the joys and stresses of parenthood balance each other out, as people with and without children are equally happy (Argyle 2001).
10 Both IQ and educational attainment appear to be unrelated to happiness (Diener et al. 2009; Ross & Van Willigen 1997).
11 Good-looking people enjoy huge advantages, but do not report greater happiness than others (Diener et al. 1995).
12 The correlation between income and happiness is surprisingly weak (Diener & Seligman 2004; Diener et al. 1993; Johnson & Krueger 2006). One problem may be that higher income contributes to greater materialism, which impedes happiness (Frey & Stutzer 2002; Kasser et al. 2004; Solberg et al. 2002; Kasser 2002; Van Boven 2005; Nickerson et al. 2003; Kahneman et al. 2006).
13 Those with disabling health conditions are happier than you might think (Myers 1992; Riis et al. 2005; Argyle 1999).
14 Those who are satisfied with their social life are moderately more happy than others (Diener & Seligman 2004; Myers 1999; Diener & Seligman 2002).
15 Religiosity correlates with happiness (Abdel-Kahlek 2005; Myers 2008), though it may be religious attendance and not religious belief that matters (Chida et al. 2009).
16 Past happiness is the best predictor of future happiness (Lucas & Diener 2008). Happiness is surprisingly unmoved by external factors (Lykken & Tellegen 1996), because genes accounts for about 50% of the variance in happiness (Lyubomirsky et al. 2005; Stubbe et al. 2005).
17 Married people are happier than those who are single or divorced (Myers & Diener 1995; Diener et al. 2000), and marital satisfaction predicts happiness (Proulx et al. 2007).
18 Unemployment makes people very unhappy (Argyle 2001), and job satisfaction is strongly correlated with happiness (Judge & Klinger 2008; Warr 1999).
19 Lyubomirsky et al. (2005); Stubbe et al. (2005).
20 Brickman et al. (1978).
21 Weiss et al. (2008).
22 Lucas & Diener (2008); Fleeson et al. (2002).
23 Lucas (2008) and Lyubomirsky et al. (2006).
24 On the learnability of extroversion, see Fleeson et al. (2002); Bouchard & Loehlin (2001); McNeil & Fleeson (2006). On the learnability of agreeableness, see Graziano & Tobin (2009). On the learnability of conscientiousness, see Roberts et al. (2009). On the learnability of self-esteem, see Barrett et al. (1999); Borras et al. (2009). On the learnability of optimism, see Lindsley et al. (1995); Hans (2000); Feldman & Matjasko (2005). On the learnability of character traits in general, see Peterson & Seligman (2004).
25 Schwarz & Strack (1999).
26 Argyle (1999); Hagerty (2000).
27 Gilbert (2006), Hsee & Hastie (2005), Wilson & Gilbert (2005).
28 Csikszentmihalyi (1990, 1998); Gardner, Csikszentmihalyi & Damon (2002); Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi (2009).
29 Wegner (1989).
30 Kabat-Zinn (1982).
31 Shapiro et al. (1998); Chang et al. (2004).
32 Grossman et al. (2004).
33 Felson (1989); Harter (1998); Furnham & Cheng (2000); Wissink et al. (2006).
34 There are several disputed and uncertain methods I did not mention. One example is "expressive writing." Compare Lepore & Smyth (2002) and Spera et al. (1994) to Seery et al. (2008). Moreover, talking with a others about bad experiences may help, but maybe not: see Zech & Rimé (2005). Another disputed method is that of improving mood by thinking quicker and more varied thoughts: see Pronin & Jacobs (2008). I'm waiting for more research to come in on that one. The results of "affectionate writing" are mixed: see Floyd et al. (2009). The effects of household plants are also mixed: see Bringslimark et al. (2009). There remains debate on whether forced smiles and laughter improve happiness. Finally, see the review of literature in Helliwell (2011).
35 Crocker & Park (2004); Bushman & Baumeister (1998); Bushman & Baumeister (2002).
36 Self-serving bias is the tendency to attribute success to internal causes (oneself), but attribute failure to external causes. Basking in reflected glory is an attempt to enhance one's image by announcing and displaying association with a well-perceived group or individual. Self-handicapping is a way of saving face by sabotaging one's performance in order to provide an excuse for the failure.
37 See, for example: Stepien & Baernstein (2006); de Vignemont & Singer (2006); Heln & Singer (2008).
38 Bryant & Veroff (2007).
39 Burton & King (2004).
40 Emmons & McCullough (2003); Lyubomirsky et al. (2005); Peterson (2006).
41 Park & Folkman (1997); Bauer et al. (2008); Lee et al. (2006); Reker et al. (1987); Ulmer et al. (1991); Langer & Rodin (1976).
42 Gottman et al. (1998); Hahlweg et al. (1984); Jacobson et al. (1987).
43 Aron et al. (2000); Aron et al. (2003).
44 Gottman (1984).
45 Buunk et al. (2001).
46 Murray & Holmes (1999).
47 Aron et al. (2000). As for how to find, attract, and keep a great romantic partner in the first place, well: that will have to wait for another article. And of course, perhaps you're not looking for a long term romantic relationship at all. That's another article, too.
48 Berto (2005); Hartig et al. (2003); Kaplan (1993, 2001); Price (2008); Berman et al. (2008); Tennessen & Cimprich (1995).
49 Frey & Stutzer (2002); Kasser et al. (2004); Solberg et al. (2002); Kasser (2002); Van Boven (2005); Nickerson et al. (2003); Kahneman et al. (2006).
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Great post. Several quibbles:
The wealth -> happiness current data is changed every year. Last study had a monotonic positive relationship between wealth and happiness to $60K/y. Will Wilkinson had this a while back.
Parenthood also has a complex relationship with happiness. In general, it appears to decrease young folks happiness, and increase older folks happiness, as of the last thing I read. Read Will Wilkinson and Bryan Caplan here.
The Kahneman TED video: ( http://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_kahneman_the_riddle_of_experience_vs_memory.html ) on happiness, suggesting that experienced happiness and remembered happiness are effectively ENTIRELY different things is an important caveat here. I actually think it's probably the most important thing to be known about happiness.
You also don't address very well (and probably shouldn't in a how-to) the serious methodological difficulty of happiness research. Rating happiness on a Likert scale is a weak way to rate happiness, and one prone to intra- and inter- personal comparisons with ones self and reference group...whether or not one has a buzzer.
For instance, my move from Chicago to California has allowed a great deal more outdoor/sun time, which increases happiness...but after a couple years, I'll have forgotten the reference group of Chicago, and will rate my daily happiness based on my current baseline, not my current Chicago-including reference. .
1 more bit to remember:
Commuting really really sucks. Least happy part of almost everyone's day, who does it. Minimizing commute is a not-inconsequential path towards increased happiness.
I avoid this problem by biking as much as possible. Granted, this wouldn't work if I lived in the suburbs an hour's drive from work, but since I live about a 15-minute drive, that works out to a 35-minute bike ride. Multiply that by two for every day I work, add whatever extra minutes I spend going to friend's houses or grocery shopping, and that's a lot of outdoor aerobic exercise, which improves my mood hugely. And I arrive at work awake and pumped even for 6 am shifts.
This is not the sort of thing you can give "an answer" to. Other studies have found that age, intelligence, attractiveness, and money correlate well with happiness. A recent study found that money correlates with happiness up to $75,000/yr, which I would not call poverty. Health, wealth, and happiness all correlate so strongly that picking one out as causal is difficult. And other studies have found that parenthood correlates negatively with happiness while your children are living at home; I expect it corresponds positively once they've moved out.
Regarding improving/learning social skills for introverted people, I think conversing with oneself may be useful. It can be quite difficult attempting new ways of socialising with other people if you have self-esteem issues.
I have an introverted nature, and speaking practice with myself has shown some benefits.
Hold a conversation with yourself, speaking out loud, about any subject that comes into your mind. You must keep the conversation flow consistent, don't complete sentences in your mind, every thought must be verbalised. It may help to pretend that there is someone listening in, ensure that what you're saying will make sense to that listener.
You may talk about the events that have happened during the day, make it as elaborate and interesting as possible. Talk about some interesting events that have occured in your life, try and inject some humour into it. I've found that I become more skilled at recalling events in greater detail, I can also use these constructed stories in a real social gathering later.
Recording your conversation on video camera and viewing it later may also provide some additional insight into what you should improve on. I suggest (like anything you're trying to master) performing this activity everyday.
Please note: While I have no studies to back this up, I am basing this on personal experience, I've noticed that after a 10 minute session I feel more witty and talkative.
I just wanted to say how amazing this blog is. I really admire the person that took the time to research all of this wonderful information and put it all together as one for someone like me to read. I'm planning to do my best to live by what you've said and promise to try harder than ever to get myself out of this low/depressed mood that has been with me for the last 10 years. Thank you so much, and please continue your incredible work!
This was great, Luke. I didn't see anything in the post or replies about developing skills that aren't explicitly social/extrovert-focused (other than the perhaps the related encouragement to operate in "the flow"), so I thought I'd share a personal story of such development.
When I was in 3rd or 4th grade, my handwriting was terrible. My mom bought me one of those learning-to-write-cursive books where you just copy letters over pages and pages, using a bot and bottom solid line and a dashed middle line as a guide.
This drastically improved my handwriting, but I think it also increased my fine-motor skills or something, as I found I had the ability do things like calligraphy and, more recently, fine-ish woodworking. I share this because I think the skill was more or less learned, and the knowledge that I have done the cursive book let me look at other things and think, "I think I might be able to do that." For examples, see:
I... (read more)
What is happiness? That is, what are people intending to point at, when they use this word?
For the last few weeks I've been running an app on my phone called mappiness. At random times during the day, it asks you how "happy", "relaxed", and "awake" you are on a scale from "Not at all" to "Extremely", and what you were doing at the time. I find myself at something of a loss in choosing an answer. I mean, I can be pleased or displeased about specific events or longer-lasting situations, but a general concept of "happiness" does not seem to be a part of my experience. I don't see an actual thing here. (This is not the first time I've had occasion to wonder what other people are talking about, when they use certain words to talk about certain aspects of their internal experience.)
What are psychologists asking for, when they ask people to rate their "happiness" on a scale from "Not at all" to "Extremely" or from 0 to 10? In literal terms, they are asking for a point on that scale. But what are they getting? What do those answers mean? If the answers don't change following some piece of good fortune... (read more)
This is a great post. I don't mean to hijack it, but it's amusing to me to match up the happiness advice with my own life. So skipping over 1 and 2 on the list:
Nice post. It seems like a good summary of important results from happiness science, with interesting ideas about how to increase one's social skills added. Some comments:
I'm surprised that you don't mention the trait neuroticism, which in many studies has the strongest correlation with happiness. (see eg) In general, neuroticism and extraversion are far better predicators of happiness than conscientiousness and agreeableness (even if the latter traits have some effect).
Interestingly, religion doesn't correlate with happiness in more athestic (compared to US) european countries like Sweden. One way to explain this is that much of the effect is socially mediated and that less of the effect is meditated by finding meaning in life.
Do you know of any studies showing that checking if yo... (read more)
Based on The Happiness Hypothesis, there are three things that have been shown to increase your tolerance for setbacks: meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy, and Prozac. All three help you take negative things less seriously.
(Better references upcoming once I my friend returns my copy of the book to me. Or someone else who has it can give the cites to the relevant research.)
I looked through the cited chapter on Google Books, and while it had many interested citations and one for Conscientiousness increasing over age, IIRC, it didn't say anything on learnability that I saw. Could you be more specific than a review chapter for this claim?
Keeping a gratitude journal has been one of the most useful improvements to my own happiness levels. (Have been keeping it for four months now!)
Regarding the development of agreeableness/empathy: there are meditation techniques specifically intended to do this. (They are variously called "Metta", "Lojong", "Tonglen", or (yuck) "loving kindness meditation"; all of which are pretty similar.) These originate in Mahayana Buddhism, but don't have any specifically religious content. They are often taught in conjunction with mindfulness meditation.
I don't know whether there have been any serious studies on these methods, but anecdotally they are highly effective... (read more)
You might consider talking to a knowledgeable woman about adding a couple of good references about clothes for women... it's not actually true that all women already know what to do or how to find out.
IMHO, you should consider labeling your "Win at Life" posts as a sequence at some point.
I leave the task of identifying the precise moment when a series of posts becomes a sequence to the philosophical faction of LW.
I consider myself a very happy person, but I am going to lose myself in all these things you linked to just because they all seem so damned interesting.
It's okay though, I'm happy about it. Thanks for all the work you put into this post.
I suffer from depression (but the ADHD is a lot of fun) and many of the things listed have helped me. I would also suggest the use of comedy. I intend to show yer list to my new therapist. I think it will be handy in planning my treatment goals. Thanks, and nice foot notes.
I'm sure that major life circumstances (external events) greatly affect happiness levels - divorce, death of a loved one, major illness, losing one's job or home. People adapt but it could take years to return to previous levels of happiness, if ever (Lucas).
I got to this blog because I thought that by delving into research on happiness, I would find a way back to happiness; it's been five years since I lost it. What I've learned is that the authentic happiness I felt while married and raising a family - now replaced by singledom and an empty nest - will ... (read more)
Tim Ferriss says seeking happiness is vague and foolhardy, and you should instead seek excitement.
Is this the most recent result? Lately I've seen the "parenthood makes you less happy" result being toted around a lot in the popular press, though being the popular press, they didn't give proper references.
It's complicated. Marital satisfaction and happiness change throughout the 'family cycle.' Newlyweds are pretty happy. Having a kid is the lowest point. Having adolescent kids is better than infants, and not as bad as commonly thought. Couples who have sent their kids out into the world experience rising happiness, near newlywed levels.
But yes, those first few years after birthing a new child are definitely the worst. So in that sense, parenthood makes you less happy. But it doesn't last. As the kids grow up, happiness goes back up again.
BTW, the best solution to the 'marriage sucks after having a kid' problem seems to be this: change your expectations. :)
Every time I hear that question asked of married heterosexual female professionals, I want them to answer "More or less the same way my husband does."
What's disappointing to me about this overlapping proportion of your life is that the kids are small (and most demanding) exactly over the same period of time when your work is most demanding (when you're trying to get tenure). I'm disappointed because I'm not the best parent or the best scientist that I could have been if they were staggered even by just 5 years.
At the moment, I feel more critical of the tenure system and -- to be honest -- am jealous that I am juggling parenting and trying to get tenure while my single colleagues have potentially an extra 20 hours a week to work on their research. While I know that having children is a choice that I made, the biology is such that I should have kids now ... and the tenure system, which requires your most productive work in your thirties, is not sympathetic to this biological fact.
I only recently began feeling dissatisfied. Until recently, I instead felt somewhat guilty and greedy about trying to have it 'all' -- a family and a career. This is because I see that many wome... (read more)
Just chiming in to say that "wanting to have it all" is good and absolutely not something to feel guilty about, as long as it doesn't make your failures more painful. Whenever people around you say or imply that you "ought" to be "humble", they're wrong and you're right.
This sounds right.
When looking at the people who started scientific revolutions, it is the middle-aged, not young, who are overrepresented.
It also needs to be noted that during the last couple of hundred years, the amount of scientists in the world has been constantly increasing. The net result has been that there have always been more young researchers than old researchers, since more members of the younger generations have chosen to become scientists than happened in the previous generations. This has led to an illusion of youth being a requisite for scientific discovery, since there have been more young scientists and therefore also more young scientist geniuses than old scientist geniuses.
Scientific performance, as measured by the number of publications and the frequency of citations for those publications, increases steadily over time and reaches its high point around age 40 at least in chemistry, geology, mathematics, physics, psychology and sociology.
Cole, S. (1979) Age and Scientific Performance. The American Journal of Sociology, vol. 84, no. 4, 985-977.
Wray, K.B. (2003) Is Science Really a Young Man's Game? Social Studies of Science, vol. 33, no. 1, 137-149.
Als... (read more)
Recently in school, we were asked to rate our attributes and social skills on a scale of (0-5 ) For example are we good with other people, are we understanding etc. We were also asked about our self esteem. I put down 3- meaning average( Big, fat lie) I used to have high self-esteem, I never cared much of what others thought of me. But for the last few years I've been put down so much, I'm surprised I can still smile. Last year was especially tough. I went through horrible stuff and ended up having to see the school councilor. I was depressed almost ev... (read more)
Not to sound ungrateful about the list, but isn't there some dissonance between 3 and 14? Avoid consumerism, but buy lots of the expensive clothes in these mass-market consumerist guides?
Consumerism is buying in the vain hope that the act of purchase will bring happiness, or failing to see that many advertised items will bring you low value compared to their price. Being anti-consumerist doesn't prevent you from buying useful tools after evaluating their price to be lower than their value to you. Many geeks underestimate the value of good looking clothing as a social tool.
Now, you can argue that our society would be better if we didn't judge people by their clothing, but you live in a society that does - and so for you, clothing is a tool to alter how you are judged. The ideal clothing may not be the most expensive or the most trendy, but most of us on this site probably buy clothing that is insufficiently trendy.
Okay, in brief: what the research seems to indicate is that materialistic goals (ends) may lead to unhappiness, especially if they lead to ever-growing desires for material goods (which they often do). Also, those focused on financial success tend to derive less satisfaction from other aspects of life (the Nickerson paper).
So that is why I recommend (at least) two things: Get nice clothes because it helps your social life, but also beware the threat of consumerism. Beware the pursuit of material goods for their own sake. Material goods are often of value, but don't let them run away with you. And certainly don't make money the focus of your efforts and passion.
But what if, e.g. you personally assign a large preference to avoiding conforming to modern fashion standards. For example, I think it is bad to vote for modern fashion with dollars because it is an unsustainable industry. I don't have enough dollars to buy "sustainable" clothing. And I also don't value the social opinions of others if they are based largely upon the way I dress. It would feel painful for me to take steps to be fashionable. If you told me today that my future self would adjust to being fashionable, would have no moral qualms with that, and would feel somewhat happier as a result, this would make me currently feel deeply unhappy about the person I would become.
Also, where can we find more specific instruction about how to "find a more fulfilling job"? I spend many hours thinking about this, talking to the career counselors for my grad program, writing LW posts about it, talking with campus representatives, friends, family, etc. I also scour the internet for job listing, the BLS descriptions of jobs (which are essentially the same as O*Net), etc. I feel that 2+ years of doing all this effort on an almost daily basis has not taught me a single thin... (read more)
This is the best thing I've seen on lesswrong. Thank you!
From personal experience, the times when I've been happiest are:
a) The weeks after the time during adolescence when I entered an altered state of consciousness induced by meditation and music during a christian summer camp and believed that I'd had a spiritual experience - this cured the issues with eating disorder / depression that I'd had before (whereas professional counselling was totally ineffective) but I regret that at the time I was too young to be able to interpret my experience rationally. Maybe this is why religion correlates positively with hap... (read more)
It seems the statement "I am happy" can mean one is experiencing an fleeting positive reaction to external reality or it can describe the speaker as someone who does a lot of BEING happy, who is mindful of the way the impact of positive and negative stimuli on their consciousness is integrated into their perception of the world and tries to steer the process in a way that shifts the baseline of their perceived happiness higher. One could just decide to be happy all the time and through practice achieve this, but the rationalizations required to s... (read more)
Thank you, Luke!
I was feeling down today and even reading about this gave me a tiny boost. Thanks!
Chatroulette seems interesting to me... I will try it over the next few days and see if I actually notice any improvement. I find socialising easy and natural when we have something in common (like an interest in games, computers, rationality, programming, or music) but am completely at a loss in other situations. Any chances I can get to talk in a less stressful environment are appreciated. Speaking of which, where can I get statistics on how many less wrong readers there are in each city? I want to see if there are enough in Winnipeg Manitoba to make starting one worthwhile.
A friend of mine uses a great trick here. She has very high self-esteem (though maybe not higher than the esteem that I hold her in) but doesn’t come across narcissistic at all because she’s also very warm and empathetic with a lot of care and curiosity for the people around her. These multiply and are therefore particularly uplifting for those around her: I (for example) not only feel interesting but I feel so interesting that I’m interesti... (read more)
Hi Luke wondered what you had learned ref happiness since writing this? Thanks
I wonder, do any of you ever feel like you're not allowed to be happy, as long as there is so much we still need to solve in this world?
For example, a thought that could spring up: I am sitting here reading blogs/playing videogames and procrastinating my schoolwork. While at the same time we have a global warming problem, poverty in poor countries, and plastic polluting our oceans. Should I dedicate my time to educating people about recycling/ or maybe even becoming a scientist to invent better solar panels? Or should I stick with my plans and dreams that... (read more)
Regarding Chatroulette, note also the existence of the similar Omegle.
With regard to how you're using the word in your post, does everyone want to be happy by definition, or is it a specific set of feelings which different people may attach different emotional utility to?
The link "http://www.bradp.com/brads-fashion-bible is broken. While it seems to be a self help link, it's not fashion related at all. It seems to be just pick up artist trick
cost rica: happiest, stable sunny/warm (keeps that thermal variation discomfort and seasonal affective disorder away!), most renewable (sustainable), least militaristic country..oh and yeah, like you said, your neighbours are poorer so downward social comparisons are aplenty!
RIASEC link is broken ( in "a RIASEC personality test might help") - google returns this: http://personality-testing.info/tests/RIASEC.php as the top alternative
I found this useful for updating my views on what conditions are conducive to happiness: http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_asks_why_are_we_happy/transcript
As for social skills, I found http://www.succeedsocially.com/allarticles to be a very insightful and comprehensive resource.
The biggest thing I think this article could use is a mention of Martin Seligman's research on optimism, which I've found to be extremely helpful: http://www.amazon.com/Learned-Optimism-Change-Your-Vintage-ebook/dp/B005DB6S7K/ref=sr_1_1
Learning how to be systematically optimistic is, I think, the only way to make a sustained change in this area.
I'm finding it increasingly frustrating in figuring out how to get into a job I will enjoy. I took the RIASEC test(Holland Code is that the same thing?) and came out as IAS. I agree with the IA part but the social part is less clear. Wtf can I do with that code once I have it? Anyone have any suggestions please? I'll provide a CV if that helps with suggestions.
Why did you choose the particular books recommendations that you did? Do you have reason to believe that they are particularly useful (over other books of the same type)?
I'm not sure if this is the best place to post this, but I did not find any others.
I have created an account here to seek some help, since this seems like a more thoughtful, hesitant environment than most.
Recently, I have come to a bit of an existential crisis. It is likely a product of the Existential Angst Factory. It sounds like a plot to a shitty romantic comedy, and I would laugh if it weren't that it was happening to me. I fell in love, to the extent that I can define idea, with my housemate's live-in "fuck buddy" in whom h... (read more)
Great post. Not sure about most of this, but I do believe that people can be predisposed to happiness. I know to be fact that some of the most unhappy people can become happy by learning how,
I'd just like to say thanks for posting this. Cogent, researched, cheerful, and helpful.
Also, I didn't even realize there are people out there who can still use proper English. Actually, your command of English is so incredible, I'm having a bit of trouble understanding what you're saying. In my defense it's not my first language.
I took the personality test suggested and I was blown away! So enlightening to understand myself more :)
Very good article - hopefully it will put me on path to a fulfilling and happy life. Excellent piece of work. :-)
Re: The correlates of happiness - my only quibble I was previously under the impression that health was a big correlate of happiness, at least at the same level as a successful relationships, etc. In both cases I think a sudden changes lead to corresponding unhappiness or happiness and that over time happiness will return to close to the initial levels. Curiously, in the health footnote you specifically claim look at the unhappiness of people w... (read more)
Some of the text formatting in this article are broken on the browser Opera. The first lines of the numbered paragraphs have expanded whitespace, and the last words of one line are hidden by the sidebar.
Good article, thanks for it.
I just noticed that the link to the documentary about the deliberate invention of consumerism by Edward Bernays no longer works. What was the name of the document please?
This is a great piece of work, thanks for taking the time to put it together!
You mention that meditation may help. Do you have a study to back this up, or is that speculation?
I know this doesn't add to the discussion, but I have to ask: Was this posted in the discussion section some time back? Because I seem to be having an extreme case of deja vu reading the first part, otherwise, and I don't find that particularly likely.
I'm skeptical about the whole practice of studying happiness and trying to be happier based on this body of knowledge. Who knows what self reports actually mean? Social dynamics play a huge role in determine how happy people claim to be. Moreover, the entire enterprise of feeling good for its own sake strikes me as reactionary. Focusing on the personal ignores the social conditions response for so much suffering. I have the same complaints about zen. As Martin Luther King said, I'm proud to maladjusted about the horrors that surround me. I wouldn't want to be content under current nightmarish circumstances.
Just goes to show, this Lukeprog is actually an uploaded copy of the original, and at the time of writing was around 20 minutes old.
But im not happy