Happiness, Part 3

Originally posted at Writeindependent.org on November 28, 2011

As we age, we should be better at learning what makes us happy. If this isn’t happening, then here is today’s lesson from Jonathan Haidt’s excellent book, The Happiness Hypothesis:

“…Most of the life goals that people pursue…can be sorted…into four categories: work and achievement, relationships and intimacy, religion and spirituality, and generativity (leaving a legacy and contributing something to society). Although it is generally good for you to pursue goals, not all goals are equal. People who strive primarily for achievement and wealth are… less happy, on average, than those whose strivings focus on the other three categories. The reason takes us back to happiness traps and conspicuous consumption (see chapter 5): Because human beings were shaped by evolutionary processes to pursue success, not happiness, people enthusiastically pursue goals that will help them win prestige in zero-sum competitions. Success in these competitions feels good but gives no lasting pleasure, and raises the bar for future success.

“When tragedy strikes, however, it knocks you off the treadmill and forces a decision: Hop back on and return to business as usual, or try something else? There is a window of time—just a few weeks or months after the tragedy—during which you are open to something else. During this time, achievement goals often lose their allure, sometimes coming to seem pointless. If you shift toward other goals—family, religion, or helping others—you shift to inconspicuous consumption, and the pleasures derived along the way are not fully subject to adaptation … effects. The pursuit of these goals therefore leads to more happiness but less wealth (on average).”

"Copyright © 2006 Jonathan Haidt. Reprinted by permission of Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group."
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