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the good life in a digital age

happier is not always better?

In Happiness: Enough Already Newsweek report on research by Ed Diener (et al) that proposes the possibility of being ‘too happy’:

“On a scale from 1 to 10, where 10 is extremely happy, 8s were more successful than 9s and 10s, getting more education and earning more. That probably reflects the fact that people who are somewhat discontent, but not so depressed as to be paralyzed, are more motivated to improve both their own lot (thus driving themselves to acquire more education and seek ever-more-challenging jobs) and the lot of their community (causing them to participate more in civic and political life). In contrast, people at the top of the jolliness charts feel no such urgency. “If you’re totally satisfied with your life and with how things are going in the world,” says Diener, “you don’t feel very motivated to work for change. Be wary when people tell you you should be “happier.””

The logic can seem slightly twisted – you’ll be happier if you were a bit less happy?

“Once a moderate level of happiness is achieved, further increases can sometimes be detrimental.”

The report itself uses slightly odd anecdotes to prove their point that being happy may not always be good for you:

“it is not difficult to find anecdotes that could be explained by this account of the detrimental effect of overly
positive evaluations. For instance, an active 77-year-old California woman went out to bike during a deadly heat wave, even though her family begged her not to go. She was later found dead of heat stroke”

There’s a unnerving theme of ‘if you are too happy you might end up dead’ that seems to implicitly rate a long and moderately happy life above a short but insanely happy one.

But as Diener explains:

” Once people are moderately happy, the most effective level of happiness appears to depend on the specific outcomes used to define success

“these proposals implicitly raise the question of how happy nations should be.”

So it’s not about what’s good for the individual at all. Which makes more sense. A very happy populace might damage GDP.

Written by Karen

April 1st, 2008 at 6:56 am

Posted in happiness