The Scientist’s Guide to Happiness

Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/akijinn/3890887/">akijinn</a>

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


For quite a while, scientists have largely understood happiness to be fairly static. Yes, your happiness would jump when you won the lottery, but a few years later, you’d be back to your genetically-determined “set point” happiness level. But this week, scientists from Netherlands, Germany, and Australia co-authored a paper (PDF) published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that says life choices can cause permanent changes in happiness levels. Scientists had a number of findings that you might find useful. For example, women who are unattached but thin are happier than women who are obese but partnered; working more hours than you want to is better than being underemployed; people who prioritize family or altruistic goals are happier than those who pursue materialistic or self-centered goals.

Scientists found that a few things are almost guaranteed to raise your happiness levels, and they’re basic common-sense kinds of things like exercising regularly, socializing with friends, and doing charity work. Also, choose a life partner who isn’t crazy, though, the authors point out, “some neurotic individuals may have to settle for neurotic partners.” For women in particular, choice of a mate was very important: women whose partners were invested in family life were far happier than those with unsupportive partners. The authors noted that although “it would presumably be unforgivable to complete a personality inventory before deciding to live together,” BUT, they continued, if there WAS a test you wanted to give your future partner, you should choose the NEO-AC which measures “five traits that many psychologists think describe normal or nonpsychotic personality.” I think this advice might best be summarized as “Be careful and don’t marry a psycho because it’ll make you miserable.”

The study’s authors based their research on nearly 30 years of interviews with German nationals and concluded that their paper’s findings “should open up an exciting period in happiness research.” One thing the authors mentioned briefly was that although choices affect happiness, happiness also affects choices. If you’re depressed, you’re less likely to exercise and take care of yourself. So if you’re genetically pre-disposed toward depression, wouldn’t that make you (to some extent) pre-disposed toward unhappiness as well?

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate