Tag Archives: happiness

The Source of Happiness

When, after twenty years of mar­riage, Laura Mun­son’s hus­band told her “I don’t love you any­more. I’m not sure I ever did.”, she chose to not believe him. Not because it did­n’t hurt or that she was­n’t tak­ing it per­son­ally, but because this was­n’t about her – it was about unmet expect­a­tions.

In yet anoth­er touch­ing Mod­ern Love column (is there any oth­er type?), Mun­son tells an enthralling story of mar­it­al and famili­al dis­quiet, but also man­ages to cut to the core of hap­pi­ness: that the source is not to be found through extern­al val­id­a­tion.

I’d finally man­aged to exile the voices in my head that told me my per­son­al hap­pi­ness was only as good as my out­ward suc­cess, rooted in things that were often out­side my con­trol. I’d seen the insan­ity of that equa­tion and decided to take respons­ib­il­ity for my own hap­pi­ness. And I mean all of it.

My hus­band had­n’t yet come to this under­stand­ing with him­self. He had enjoyed many years of hard work, and its rewards had sup­por­ted our fam­ily of four all along. But his new endeavor had­n’t been going so well, and his abil­ity to be the bread­win­ner was in rap­id decline. He’d been miser­able about this, felt use­less, was los­ing him­self emo­tion­ally and let­ting him­self go phys­ic­ally. And now he wanted out of our mar­riage; to be done with our fam­ily. […]

I saw what had been miss­ing: pride. He’d lost pride in him­self. Maybe that’s what hap­pens when our egos take a hit in mid­life and we real­ize we’re not as young and golden any­more.

When life’s knocked us around. And our child­hood myths reveal them­selves to be just that. The truth feels like the biggest suck­er-punch of them all: it’s not a spouse or land or a job or money that brings us hap­pi­ness. Those achieve­ments, those rela­tion­ships, can enhance our hap­pi­ness, yes, but hap­pi­ness has to start from with­in. Rely­ing on any oth­er equa­tion can be leth­al.

My hus­band had become lost in the myth.

The Advantage of Busywork: Happiness

“We are hap­pi­er when busy but our instinct is for idle­ness”, says Chris­toph­er Hsee, a research­er at the Uni­ver­sity of Chica­go who has been study­ing the link between busy­n­ess and hap­pi­ness.

What this means is that work con­duc­ted merely to keep us busy (so-called busy­work) can actu­ally increase our hap­pi­ness, des­pite what con­ven­tion­al wis­dom sug­gests (Hsee’s study: Idle­ness Aver­sion and the Need for Jus­ti­fi­able Busy­n­ess).

This ‘futile busy­n­ess’ is defined by Hsee as “busy­n­ess serving no pur­pose oth­er than to pre­vent idle­ness” and is dis­played per­fectly in a study Hsee dis­covered show­ing this in action: at a Hou­s­ton air­port inund­ated with com­plaints, man­agers suc­cess­fully improved pas­sen­gers’ well-being by employ­ing a clev­er bit of reen­gin­eer­ing:

A closer ana­lys­is of the prob­lem […] revealed that the wait­ing time until lug­gage deliv­ery con­sisted of two com­pon­ents: a 1‑minute walk­ing time from the air­craft to the lug­gage carou­sel and a 7‑minute wait­ing time at the carou­sel […] As pas­sen­gers dis­em­barked from the air­craft and approached the carou­sel area, a cer­tain frac­tion of them (those with hand lug­gage) pro­ceeded dir­ectly to the taxi stand, boarded a taxi, and com­menced their work­ing day; those wait­ing at the carou­sel were afforded the oppor­tun­ity for sev­en minutes of watch­ing pas­sen­gers who dis­em­barked after them start their busi­ness day before them […]

The solu­tion to this prob­lem was to delib­er­ately rein­sert delays in the sys­tem. The air­craft dis­em­bark­ing loc­a­tion was moved out­ward from the main ter­min­al, and the most dis­tant carou­sel was selec­ted for deliv­ery of lug­gage, so the total walk time was increased from one to six minutes. After this inser­tion of delay was suc­cess­fully com­pleted and the sys­tem was per­ceived to be more socially just, pas­sen­ger com­plaints dropped to nearly zero.

via The Browser

The Argument for Parenthood

It is often sug­ges­ted that hav­ing chil­dren has a neg­at­ive net effect on the hap­pi­ness of the par­ents. Eco­nom­ist Bry­an Caplan dis­agrees, sug­gest­ing that stud­ies have missed the evid­ence sug­gest­ing that par­ents sac­ri­fice more than they need to and over­es­tim­ate the long-term effects of par­ent­ing on a wide range of child out­comes (includ­ing edu­ca­tion, mor­al­ity, obesity, and gen­er­al demean­our).

Caplan’s next book is the intriguingly titled Selfish Reas­ons to Have More Kids and in this essay for The Wall Street Journ­al he out­lines his core argu­ment for why we should have chil­dren:

While the pop­u­lar and the aca­dem­ic cases against kids have a ker­nel of truth, both lack per­spect­ive. By his­tor­ic­al stand­ards, mod­ern par­ents get a remark­ably good deal. […]

It’s also true that mod­ern par­ents are less happy than their child­less coun­ter­parts. But hap­pi­ness research­ers rarely emphas­ize how small the hap­pi­ness gap is.[…]

If […] you’re inter­ested in kids, but scared of the sac­ri­fices, research has two big les­sons. First, par­ents’ sac­ri­fice is much smal­ler than it looks, and child­less and single is far inferi­or to mar­ried with chil­dren. Second, par­ents’ sac­ri­fice is much lar­ger than it has to be. Twin and adop­tion research shows that you don’t have to go the extra mile to pre­pare your kids for the future. Instead of try­ing to mold your chil­dren into per­fect adults, you can safely kick back, relax and enjoy your jour­ney together—and ser­i­ously con­sider adding anoth­er pas­sen­ger.

Complexity and Autonomy Key to Workplace Satisfaction

Work com­plex­ity and autonomy are the two largest factors in decid­ing work­place sat­is­fac­tion, sug­ges­ted find­ings repor­ted in a 1985 art­icle in The New York Times.

The find­ings came from research by Dr. Jeylan T. Mor­timer and Dr. Melvin L. Kohn and seems to agree with a more recent dis­cus­sion on the three keys to pro­gram­mer work­place sat­is­fac­tion (autonomy, mas­tery, pur­pose).

The most import­ant determ­in­ant of job sat­is­fac­tion is ‘work autonomy,’ or the degree to which employ­ees feel they can make their own decisions and influ­ence what hap­pens on the job.

[The research­er] also found, in sharp con­trast to most pre­vi­ous research, that income had no sig­ni­fic­ant inde­pend­ent effect on job sat­is­fac­tion. People earn­ing high incomes typ­ic­ally enjoy the most autonomy on the job […] which tends to make them happy. But if one looks at indi­vidu­als who have equally autonom­ous jobs […] then they appear equally happy with those jobs, regard­less of any income dis­par­it­ies among them.

Anoth­er inter­est­ing find­ing dis­cussed in this art­icle is how “the social pos­i­tion and job con­di­tions” of your job influ­ence the value sys­tems of your chil­dren:

If the par­ents have jobs that allow self-dir­ec­tion […] then they and their chil­dren are likely to value such traits as depend­ab­ilty, curi­os­ity and respons­ib­il­ity. But if the par­ents have a job that requires con­form­ity to super­vi­sion, he added, then they and their chil­dren tend to value such traits as obed­i­ence, neat­ness and clean­li­ness.

Update: The cur­rent (01 July 2010) most high­lighted pas­sage on the Amazon Kindle is this, from Mal­colm Glad­well­’s Out­liers:

Three things—autonomy, com­plex­ity, and a con­nec­tion between effort and reward—are, most people agree, the three qual­it­ies that work has to have if it is to be sat­is­fy­ing.

Happy Citizens are Good Citizens

By fos­ter­ing hap­pi­ness in our cit­ies, towns and vil­lages we are sim­ul­tan­eously cul­tiv­at­ing inhab­it­ants that will give more blood, donate more to char­ity, and gen­er­ally be bet­ter cit­izens.

That’s the con­clu­sion from a study look­ing at how happy people become bet­ter cit­izens as a res­ult of being happy.

Hap­pi­er people trust oth­ers more, and import­antly, help cre­ate more social cap­it­al. Spe­cific­ally, they have a high­er desire to vote, per­form more volun­teer work, and more fre­quently par­ti­cip­ate in pub­lic activ­it­ies [i.e. com­munity activ­it­ies, reli­gious events, cul­tur­al events and social gath­er­ings]. They also have a high­er respect for law and order, hold more asso­ci­ation mem­ber­ships, are more attached to their neigh­bor­hood, and extend more help to oth­ers.

No doubt, there’s a pos­it­ive feed­back loop here (e.g. hap­pi­ness increases par­ti­cip­a­tion in social gath­er­ings, social gath­er­ings vastly increase one’s hap­pi­ness).

The research­ers go to great lengths to show caus­al­ity from hap­pi­ness to social cap­it­al and trust but I’m still not com­pletely won over. Check the paper and see what you think.

via Bark­ing Up the Wrong Tree