The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘Happiness’

The Situation of Money-Based Happiness

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 12, 2012

An excerpt from a recent, terrific New York Times piece by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton:

The notion that money can’t buy happiness has been around a long time — even before yoga came into vogue. But it turns out there is a measurable connection between income and happiness; not surprisingly, people with a comfortable living standard are happier than people living in poverty.

The catch is that additional income doesn’t buy us any additional happiness on a typical day once we reach that comfortable standard. The magic number that defines this “comfortable standard” varies across individuals and countries, but in the United States, it seems to fall somewhere around $75,000. Using Gallup data collected from almost half a million Americans, researchers at Princeton found that higher household incomes were associated with better moods on a daily basis — but the beneficial effects of money tapered off entirely after the $75,000 mark.

Why, then, do so many of us bother to work so hard long after we have reached an income level sufficient to make most of us happy? One reason is that our ideas about the relationship between money and happiness are misguided. In research we conducted with a national sample of Americans, people thought that their life satisfaction would double if they made $55,000 instead of $25,000: more than twice as much money, twice as much happiness. But our data showed that people who earned $55,000 were just 9 percent more satisfied than those making $25,000. Nine percent beats zero percent, but it’s still kind of a letdown when you were expecting a 100 percent return.

Interestingly, and usefully, it turns out that what we do with our money plays a far more important role than how much money we make. Imagine three people each win $1 million in the lottery. Suppose one person attempts to buy every single thing he has ever wanted; one puts it all in the bank and uses the money only sparingly, for special occasions; and one gives it all to charity. At the end of the year, they all would report an additional $1 million of income. Many of us would follow the first person’s strategy, but the latter two winners are likely to get the bigger happiness bang for their buck.

We usually think of having more money as allowing us to buy more and more of the stuff we like for ourselves, from bigger houses to fancier cars to better wine to more finely pixilated televisions. But these typical spending tendencies — buying more, and buying for ourselves — are ineffective at turning money into happiness. A decade of research has demonstrated that if you insist on spending money on yourself, you should shift from buying stuff (TVs and cars) to experiences (trips and special evenings out). Our own recent research shows that in addition to buying more experiences, you’re better served in many cases by simply buying less — and buying for others.

Read the entire article, including their discussion of value of “underindulgence.”

Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending (Simon & Schuster), co-authored by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, is due out in the spring of 2013!

Pre-order it on Amazon here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Altruism, Book, Deep Capture, Distribution, Emotions, Illusions, Life, Positive Psychology, Video | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Dan Gilbert on the Situation of Happy

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 7, 2011

From TEDTalks:

Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, challenges the idea that well be miserable if we dont get what we want. Our “psychological immune system” lets us feel truly happy even when things dont go as planned.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Emotions, Illusions, Life, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology, Uncategorized, Video | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Happiness and Legal Policy – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 3, 2010

Peter Huang recently posted his interesting paper, “Happiness Studies and Legal Policy” (forthcoming Annual Review of Law & Social Science) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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Social scientists have conducted numerous empirical and experimental studies of self-reported happiness. This review focuses on two fundamental areas of research in happiness and law, namely alternative measures of happiness and various policies to foster happiness. There are many aspects, concepts, dimensions, and visions of happiness. Empirical findings often depend critically on which particular measure of happiness is analyzed. Happiness studies have applications to national well-being indices; policy evaluation; civil judicial and jury decision-making about liability and damages in cases of sexual harassment, employment discrimination, torts; optimal tax law design; family law; criminal sentencing, legal education, and legal practice. There are decision-making, health, productivity, and psychological benefits to various types of happiness. There are more or less paternalistic happiness interventions, including policies to encourage regular physical exercise, good sleep, and meditation. Hopefully analysis of these topics offers exemplars of possibilities and limits to utilizing happiness studies in designing legal policy.

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You can download the paper for free here.  To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Pleasure,” “Money and the Situation of Happiness,” and “Something to Smile About.” To review a collection of Situationist posts exploring the causes and consequences of happiness, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Emotions, Legal Theory, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Money and the Situation of Happiness

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 23, 2010

The exceptional mind science writer and blogger Wray Herbert has a post on Huffington Post summarizing recent research studying the effects of money on happiness.  Here is an excerpt.

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Psychologist Jordi Quoidbach of the University of Liege, Belgium, and his colleagues wondered if wealth, because it promises abundant pleasure, might actually weaken the internal sense of scarcity that makes small pleasures possible. They decided to test this idea in the lab.

They recruited a large group of university employees, ranging from deans to janitors. The idea was to get a range of incomes and financial comfort, which they did: Some of the volunteers had socked away 75,000 euros or more, while others had a mere 1,000 euros in savings. They gave all of these volunteers a test that uses vignettes to gauge positive emotions like pride and awe and contentment. For example, the volunteers might be asked to imagine going on a hike and discovering an amazing waterfall. Would they be visibly emotional? Reminisce about the waterfall later? Tell others about the experience? And so on.

The scientists also measured the volunteers’ overall happiness, using a standardized scale, and also their desire for wealth. They measured desire for wealth with this kind of question: “How much money would you have to win in a lottery to live the life of your dreams?”

Then they crunched all the data together to sort out the links between money and happiness and savoring the little things in life. Here’s what they found: The more money people have, the less likely they are to appreciate things like waterfalls or blooming azaleas or quiet weekends. What’s more, cause-and-effect was clear from the data. That is, the ability to savor life’s small pleasures was not diminishing the need or desire for money; it was clearly the other way around.

And overall happiness? That’s the really interesting part. There is a modest relationship between wealth and happiness; that’s not all that surprising. But the inability to appreciate waterfalls undercuts money’s blessings. That is, any positive effects of wealth on happiness were offset by wealth’s deleterious effects on ability to savor life’s pleasures.

These findings reported in the journal Psychological Science, were provocative enough that the researchers wanted to double-check them in a different way. So in a second experiment, . . .

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You can read the entire post, including a description of the second experiment, here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Money and Happiness,” “Receiving by Giving,” and “Something to Smile About.”  To review a collection of Situationist posts exploring the causes and consequences of happiness, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Distribution, Emotions, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Dan Kahneman on the Situation of Experience and Memory

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 23, 2010

From TedTalks: “Using examples from vacations to colonoscopies, Nobel laureate and founder of behavioral economics Daniel Kahneman reveals how our “experiencing selves” and our “remembering selves” perceive happiness differently. This new insight has profound implications for economics, public policy — and our own self-awareness.”

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To sample some related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Becoming Happier,” Dan Kahneman on the Situation of Well-Being,” Dan Kahneman on the Situation of Intuition,” and “Martin Seligman on Positive Psychology.” For a sample of other Situationist posts related to Kahneman’s work, see Dan Kahneman’s Situation,” “The Situation of Financial Risk-Taking,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I,” and “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part II.”

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Choice Myth, Life, Positive Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Trust Me: You’ll Enjoy this Post

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 21, 2010

Craig Lambert has a worthwhile interview with Situationist friend, Dan Gilbert (author of the best-selling 2007 psychology book Stumbling on Happiness and host of the recent PBS television series This Emotional Life.), in the current issue of Harvard Magazine.   Here are some excerpts.

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In a recent issue of Science, Gilbert and his coauthorspsychology graduate student Matthew Killingsworth, Rebecca Eyre, Ph.D. ’05, and [Situationist Contributor] Timothy Wilson, Aston professor of psychology at the University of Virginiareported findings on “surrogation”: consulting the experience of another person, a surrogate, in deciding whether something will make you happy. They discovered that the direct experience of another person trumps the conjecturing of our own minds.

The surrogate’s verdict is a useful guide because we are far more similar to each other than we realize. “If you look at other human beings, we seem amazingly varied,” Gilbert explains. “What we forget is that if a Martian came and looked at us, he wouldn’t be able to tell any of us apart.” The same holds for our inner reactions. “One of the ways we’re quite similar is in our hedonic or emotional reactions to events,” he continues. “Yes, it’s true that you may like strawberry ice cream more than chocolate, whereas I prefer chocolate. But that shouldn’t obscure the much bigger point: everybody likes ice cream more than they like gall-bladder surgery. Everybody prefers a weekend in Paris to being hit over the head with a two-by-four.” Economic markets exist for this very reason: to a large degree, people like the same things.

Gilbert volunteers a thought experiment: ask a random person to list all possible human experiences, ranking them from best to worst. Then ask another randomly chosen individual to do the same. Gilbert predicts, “You’d see 99 percent overlap in their arrangements.” That’s why surrogation works. (It isn’t, however, a perfect guide, only better than the alternatives. Surrogation’s a poor strategy in those rare circumstances where human emotional responses vary widely—e.g., to a question like, “What’s your favorite number?”)

In one experiment to test surrogation, the psychologists asked a sample of women to predict how much they would enjoy a “speed date” with a particular man. Some women saw his personal profile and photograph; others learned nothing about him other than how much another woman (a stranger) had enjoyed her speed date with him. The second group predicted their enjoyment far more accurately than the first. Both groups had expected the reverse, and oddly enough, despite the outcome, both groups preferred to have the profile/photograph for their next date.

This suggests that ideas trump reality. But in predicting your likings, even someone else’s direct experience trumps mental hypotheses—which is why surrogation works. But to be helpful, the surrogate’s experience must be recent. “People are very poor at remembering how happy they were,” Gilbert says. “So it’s not very useful to ask, ‘How much did you like something you experienced last year?’ People get most questions about happiness wrong. But there is one question they get right: how happy are you right now?”

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To read the entire article and listen to parts of the interview, click here. For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Dan Gilbert on Why the Brain Scares Itself,” “Sheena Iyengar on ‘The Multiple Choice Problem,’” “Sheena Iyengar’s Situation and the Situation of Choosing,” Can’t Get No Satisfaction!: The Law Student’s Job Hunt – Part II,” “Dan Gilbert on the Situation of Our Decisions,”and “Just Choose It!

Posted in Emotions, Life, Positive Psychology, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Becoming Happier

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 8, 2009

From BigThink: “For however elusive happiness is to define, there are very specific things people can do each day that are proven to increase happiness: Tal Ben Shahar has spent his career studying them. He gave Big Think several practical happiness tips, including changing your calendar, buying a notebook, and changing your approach to car parking.”

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Something to Smile About,” “Dan Kahneman on the Situation of Well-Being,” and “Martin Seligman on Positive Psychology.”

Posted in Life, Positive Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

The Situational Consequences of Uncertainty

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 24, 2009

FearThis spring, Situationist friend, Dan Gilbert published another illuminating and entertaining op-ed, titled What We Don’t Know Makes Us Nervous,” (New York Times, May 21, 2009).  Here’s an excerpt.

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Seventy-six years ago, Franklin Delano Roosevelt took to the inaugural dais and reminded a nation that its recent troubles “concern, thank God, only material things.” In the midst of the Depression, he urged Americans to remember that “happiness lies not in the mere possession of money” and to recognize “the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success.”

“The only thing we have to fear,” he claimed, “is fear itself.”

As it turned out, Americans had a great deal more to fear than that, and their innocent belief that money buys happiness was entirely correct. Psychologists and economists now know that although the very rich are no happier than the merely rich, for the other 99 percent of us, happiness is greatly enhanced by a few quaint assets, like shelter, sustenance and security. Those who think the material is immaterial have probably never stood in a breadline.

Money matters and today most of us have less of it, so no one will be surprised by new survey results from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index showing that Americans are smiling less and worrying more than they were a year ago, that happiness is down and sadness is up, that we are getting less sleep and smoking more cigarettes, that depression is on the rise.

But light wallets are not the cause of our heavy hearts. After all, most of us still have more inflation-adjusted dollars than our grandparents had, and they didn’t live in an unremitting funk. Middle-class Americans still enjoy more luxury than upper-class Americans enjoyed a century earlier, and the fin de siècle was not an especially gloomy time. Clearly, people can be perfectly happy with less than we had last year and less than we have now.

So if a dearth of dollars isn’t making us miserable, then what is? No one knows. I don’t mean that no one knows the answer to this question. I mean that the answer to this question is that no one knows — and not knowing is making us sick.

Consider an experiment by researchers at Maastricht University in the Netherlands who gave subjects a series of 20 electric shocks. Some subjects knew they would receive an intense shock on every trial. Others knew they would receive 17 mild shocks and 3 intense shocks, but they didn’t know on which of the 20 trials the intense shocks would come. The results showed that subjects who thought there was a small chance of receiving an intense shock were more afraid — they sweated more profusely, their hearts beat faster — than subjects who knew for sure that they’d receive an intense shock.

That’s because people feel worse when something bad might occur than when something bad will occur. Most of us aren’t losing sleep and sucking down Marlboros because the Dow is going to fall another thousand points, but because we don’t know whether it will fall or not — and human beings find uncertainty more painful than the things they’re uncertain about.

But why?

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To find out, click here to read the entire op-ed.

Dan Gilbert will be speaking at Harvard Law School on Monday, October 19.  Stay tuned to the Situationist for further details.

For a sample of previous Situationist posts by or about Dan Gilbert and his work, see “Dan Gilbert on the Situation of Psychology,” “Something to Smile About,” “The Situation of Climate Change,” The Heat is On,” “Don’t Worry, But Don’t Be Happy, Either?,” “The Situation of Happiness,” “The Unlucky Irish: Celtics Fans and Affective Forecasting,” and “Conversation with Dan Gilbert.”

To review a collection of Situationist posts about the psychology of happiness, click here.

Posted in Distribution, Emotions, Life, Positive Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Money and Happiness

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 13, 2009

Money HappinessFiona Anderson of the Financial Post has an interesting take on a question that has been much discussed for many years: can money buy happiness?  We excerpt the piece below.

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But if the best things in life are free, why is it that we always seem to be after more money? Because we think it can buy happiness.

And for those at the lower end of the income scale, it probably can, according to Michael Schmitt, a social psychologist at Simon Fraser University. “Because having some money is definitely better than having no money at all,” he says.

But Mr. Schmitt words the question differently: Are people with more money generally happier than those with less?

The answer is yes, when we are talking about having enough money to cover food and shelter. But the answer is a definite maybe when you get to middle-class earners and above. “It’s going to be more important if you need money to get access to those things that meet our basic needs,” Mr. Schmitt says. “Beyond that, the effect of having more money seems to be weaker.

“And it seems when people do increase their income and have access to more material wealth, you don’t see corresponding increases in happiness.”

Happiness surveys have been carried out for years. And while income has been going up steadily for the past three or four decades, our level of happiness hasn’t changed much, Mr. Schmitt says.

In the 1950s and 1960s, there were a lot of things that were problematic, he says. “So it’s not like things were perfect and idyllic then. But our increases in material well-being don’t seem to have translated into increases in happiness overall.”

One reason may be evolving aspirations. As people achieve goals they create new ones. While that seems common for financial targets, not all goals have moving goal posts.

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To read the rest of the piece, click here.  For a related post, see Adam Benforado’s Somthing to Smile About.  To review a collection of Situationist posts exploring the causes and consequences of happiness, click here.

Posted in Emotions, Life | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

What Is Welfare? – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 4, 2009

Door to HappinessJohn Bronsteen, Christopher Buccafusco, and Jonathan Masur posted another interesting paper, “Welfare as Happiness,” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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In the fields of law, economics, and philosophy, the leading conception of human welfare is preference-satisfaction — getting what one wants. An important rival is an objective list approach to ethics — possessing an enumerated set of capabilities. This Article argues against both major views and in favor of a third, defining welfare as subjective well-being — feeling good. We reject the leading approach on the ground that preferences are often mistaken or else involve goals independent of the individual’s own welfare. When sophisticated preference-satisfaction theories launder out such preferences, those accounts reduce to our happiness-based approach. We reject objective list theories on the ground that they impose objective criteria, whereas an individual’s well-being is a purely subjective concept. How good a person’s life is for her cannot be judged by how well she satisfies someone else’s standards of virtue or flourishing. By contrast with these theories, our hedonic approach captures the ordinary understanding of what it means for someone to have well-being, and it stands up better to analytical challenges than do its rivals. As a result, we advocate that administrative agencies replace cost-benefit analysis (the tool of the preference-based approach) with well-being analysis. Groundbreaking new research in hedonic psychology makes this possible, and we discuss how it can be accomplished.

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You can download the paper for free here.  For more Situationist posts about some of those authors’ previous work, see  “Happiness and Punishment – Abstract,” and “The Situation of Civil Settlements – Abstract.”  To read other releated Situationist posts, see “Something to Smile About,” Happiness Rankings by Country,” “Miscalculating Welfare – Abstract,” and “Situating Emotion.”

Posted in Abstracts, Emotions, Legal Theory, Positive Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Something to Smile About

Posted by Adam Benforado on May 23, 2009

Smiley Face Suckers

Yes, I’m easily excitable, but I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see mainstream newspapers publishing articles on hedonic research!  Lame (terribly clever) puns aside, there is a promising trend afoot.

In the last couple weeks, the New York Times and the Boston Globe have published articles exploring the implications of research on human happiness.

In the NYT, Situationist friend Dan Gilbert sought to shed light on “new survey results from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index showing that Americans are smiling less and worrying more than they were a year ago, that happiness is down and sadness is up, that we are getting less sleep and smoking more cigarettes, that depression is on the rise.”

According to Gilbert, the explanation has to do with the discomfort of uncertainty.

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Consider an experiment by researchers at Maastricht University in the Netherlands who gave subjects a series of 20 electric shocks.  Some subjects knew they would receive an intense shock on every trial.  Others knew they would receive 17 mild shocks and 3 intense shocks, but they didn’t know on which of the 20 trials the intense shocks would come.  The results showed that subjects who thought there was a small chance of receiving an intense shock were more afraid—they sweated more profusely, their hearts beat faster—than subjects who knew for sure that they’d receive an intense shock.

That’s because people feel worse when something bad might occur than when something bad will occur.  Most of us aren’t losing sleep and sucking down Marlboros because the Dow is going to fall another thousand points, but because we don’t know whether it will fall or not — and human beings find uncertainty more painful than the things they’re uncertain about.

But why?

A colostomy reroutes the colon so that waste products leave the body through a hole in the abdomen, and it isn’t anyone’s idea of a picnic. A University of Michigan-led research team studied patients whose colostomies were permanent and patients who had a chance of someday having their colostomies reversed. Six months after their operations, patients who knew they would be permanently disabled were happier than those who thought they might someday be returned to normal.

Similarly, researchers at the University of British Columbia studied people who had undergone genetic testing to determine their risk for developing the neurodegenerative disorder known as Huntington’s disease.  Those who learned that they had a very high likelihood of developing the condition were happier a year after testing than those who did not learn what their risk was.

Why would we prefer to know the worst than to suspect it?  Because when we get bad news we weep for a while, and then get busy making the best of it.  We change our behavior, we change our attitudes.  We raise our consciousness and lower our standards. We find our bootstraps and tug.  But we can’t come to terms with circumstances whose terms we don’t yet know.  An uncertain future leaves us stranded in an unhappy present with nothing to do but wait.

Our national gloom is real enough, but it isn’t a matter of insufficient funds. It’s a matter of insufficient certainty. Americans have been perfectly happy with far less wealth than most of us have now, and we could quickly become those Americans again — if only we knew we had to.

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To read the entire article, click here.

For the Globe, Drake Bennett wrote about the potential policy implications of hedonic research.  Here are some excerpts.

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In recent years, cognitive scientists have turned in increasing numbers to the study of human happiness, and one of their central findings is that we are not very good at predicting how happy or unhappy something will make us. Given time, survivors of tragedies and traumas report themselves nearly as happy as they were before, and people who win the lottery or achieve lifelong dreams don’t see any long-term increase in happiness. By contrast, annoyances like noise or chronic pain bring down our happiness more than you’d think, and having friends or an extra hour of sleep every night can raise it dramatically.

These findings have fed the growth of a burgeoning “positive psychology” movement focused on helping people enrich their own lives. But now some scholars are starting to ask a bigger question: shouldn’t this new understanding affect policy, too? A huge range of social systems, from tort law to urban planning to medical care, are built on assumptions about what makes people happy. Now, for the first time, researchers are claiming to be actually measuring happiness, to actually know what causes it. In a society whose Smiley Facefounding document asserts a basic right to the pursuit of happiness, that new knowledge could have far-reaching implications.

What we’re learning, these thinkers argue, should make us reconsider some of the basic rules by which government regulates behavior: how we litigate lawsuits and write contracts; how we zone neighborhoods; which medical research we fund, and how we prioritize healthcare. The findings of happiness researchers offer a new and potentially powerful set of tools to compare the impacts of various laws: how does it change everybody’s happiness if the minimum wage is raised, if the speed limit is lowered, if divorce laws are loosened?

Some skeptics think it’s premature to let happiness research dictate policy: much of the data is still provisional, and some findings seem to contradict each other. And, more fundamentally, some argue that no amount of data could justify the sort of paternalism that would be required for the government to force people into some happiness-maximizing choices. It’s part of a broader debate that has preoccupied thinkers since the dawn of philosophy but been rekindled by the new research: how do we define happiness, anyway, and how much should we value it?

[S]ome psychologists have begun to argue that you can, in fact, reliably measure happiness: all you need to do is ask people. Because we so badly mispredict and misremember how happy something made us, however, the trick is to ask people to rate their current happiness, and then track the changes over time. Many recent studies have subjects keep happiness diaries; others give them beepers and have them rate their happiness whenever beeped.

Perhaps the best known study in the literature was published in 1978 by the psychologists Philip Brickman, Dan Coates, and Ronnie Janoff-Bulman. They compared the self-reported happiness levels of lottery winners, paralyzed accident victims (both paraplegics and quadriplegics), and people who were neither. What they found was that lottery winners didn’t report themselves appreciably happier than the control group, and while the paralyzed did report themselves less happy than the controls, the difference was not as dramatic as the researchers had expected. More recent and rigorous studies have yielded results broadly similar: getting married or getting a raise or a new house all give a boost to our happiness, but eventually we drop to levels near where we were before. By contrast, happiness dips and then rebounds after people lose a limb, their sight or even – though the data is more conflicting here – a loved one.

For Daniel Gilbert . . . the implications for policymaking are straightforward. Lawmakers, judges, doctors and managers alike should take the growing happiness literature into account as they decide what behavior they want to encourage or discourage. “Before we get people to do X, we ought to know that X is actually a source of happiness for them,” he says.

The field that has taken this most to heart so far is the law. A few scholars have begun arguing, for example, that the damages we award in lawsuits need to be rethought in light of work like Gilbert’s. Last year Cass R. Sunstein, a Harvard Law School professor who is now the Obama administration’s nominee for “regulatory czar,” published a law review article in which he argued that our inability to predict how well people adapt to traumas leads to excessively large awards in personal injury lawsuits. Jurors and judges overcompensate plaintiffs for their suffering, he argued, because they are unable to believe that a disabled life can be a happy one. At the same time, Sunstein pointed to evidence that people are actually better at adapting to physical disabilities than to mental illness or chronic pain – conditions that, because they are not visible, don’t tend to elicit the same sort of reaction from juries. Because of that, he argued, our misunderstanding of happiness shortchanges those plaintiffs.

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Other legal scholars are concerned not with the misallocation of award money, but with how the legal process itself may hurt people who have already suffered a trauma by impeding their natural ability to adapt. Samuel Bagenstos and Margo Schlanger, law professors at Washington University in St. Louis, co-wrote a law review article in 2007 suggesting that the emphasis on lost enjoyment of life in jury awards actually makes it harder for the plaintiff to recover. Better, they argue, to focus remedies not on the lost happiness, which in many cases will take care of itself, but on specific lost capabilities, and on mitigating their effects through rehabilitation. And to the extent that disabilities do cause unhappiness, it’s often from social factors like isolation and discrimination – so paying people off just for their disability may be counterproductive, since it can leave the real causes of unhappiness unaddressed.

In the legal world, these ideas have triggered some pushback. Among the more specific critiques was one offered by Peter Huang, a law professor at Temple, and Rick Swedloff, a visiting associate professor at Rutgers. In a law review article published this spring, they take on what they call the “legal hedonists,” cautioning that happiness research was still too uncertain to justify large-scale legal changes. What’s more, they argue, juries and judges often display a subtler intuitive understanding of hedonic adaptation than Sunstein allows.

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To read Bennett’s worthwhile piece in its entirety, click here.   For related Situationist posts, click here.

Thanks to Julian Darwell for his assistance with this post.

Posted in Emotions, Law, Legal Theory, Positive Psychology | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Situationism in the Blogosphere – November 2008

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 14, 2009

Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during November 2008. (They are listed in alphabetical order by source.)

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From BPS Research Digest blog: “Dazzled by digits: how we’re wooed by product specifications

“From megapixels and gigabytes to calorie counts and sun protection factors, there’s barely a product out there that isn’t proudly boasting its enviable specs to would-be purchasers. A new study suggests these figures exert a powerful, irrational effect on consumers’ decision-making, even overriding the influence of a person’s direct experience with a product.” Read more . . .

From BPS Research Digest blog: “Rare, profound positive events won’t make you happy, but lots of little ones

“Rather like a pond that soon returns to calm no matter the size of the stone you throw in it, psychological research has shown that people’s sense of happiness is stubbornly immovable, regardless of how good or bad the experiences one endures. . . . According to Daniel Mochon and colleagues, however, this is not the full story. Mochon’s team have tested the idea that whereas rare, massive events have no lasting effect on happiness, the cumulative effect of lots of little boosts may well have the power to influence happiness over the longer-term.” Read more . . .

From BPS Research Digest blog: We’re better at spotting fake smiles when we’re feeling rejected

“Bernstein’s team provoked feelings of rejection in students by asking them to write about a time they felt rejected or excluded. These students were subsequently better at distinguishing fake from real smiles as depicted in four-second video clips, than were students who’d either been asked to write about a time they felt included, or to write about the previous morning.” Read more . . .

From Everyday Sociology Blog: “Ideology

“You probably hear the word ideology used a lot, whether it is used in political or economic discussions (or in sociology classes). But what does it really mean? Put plainly, ideology is a way of seeing the world. Ideologies are like lenses through which we view just about everything. . . .” Read more . . .

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For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click on the “Blogroll” category in the right margin.

Posted in Abstracts, Blogroll, Ideology, Marketing, Positive Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Introspection, Retrospection, & the 2008 Election – Part 2

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 5, 2008

We’re interested in how you’re feeling after the U.S. Presidential election.  Please answer the following poll questions.

[THE POLL QUESTIONS HAVE BEEN REMOVED.  TO TAKE THE CURRENT VERSION OF THE QUESTIONS, CLICK HERE.]

Posted in Emotions, Politics, Poll, Positive Psychology | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

Introspection, Retrospection, & the 2008 Election

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 3, 2008

Situationist contributor Tim Wilson and Situationist friend Dan Gilbert have shown that, although we expect the outcomes of presidential elections to significantly influence how happy we feel, the evidence indicates otherwise.  As with most things, our affective forecasting is not to be trusted.  Gilbert summarizes one study this way:

Democrats predicted they’d be devastated if Bush won the last presidential election, they were not nearly as devastated as they predicted . . . , and yet several months later they remembered being just as devastated as they had expected to be. It turns out that this is a very common pattern of memory errors.

Our miswanting and misremembering reinforce our continued inability to forecast our own happiness.

But what do you think?  Is this election different?  Will your happiness level be seriously influenced by the outcome of this election?  Answer the questions below.

[THE POLL QUESTIONS HAVE BEEN REMOVED.  TO TAKE THE CURRENT VERSION OF THE QUESTIONS, CLICK HERE.]

If you think that this election will significantly influence your happiness level, please feel free to leave a comment explaining why.

Posted in Emotions, Illusions, Politics, Poll, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Situatiolympics – Abstracts

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 17, 2008

Today’s Boston Globe section “Uncommon Knowledge” abstracts several interesting studies related to the olympics, including two that are quite situationist: one discussing bias in Olympic coverage and the other examining the influence of expectations and counterfactual thinking among medalists. We’ve excerpted those two abstracts below.

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Billings, A. et al., “The Games Through the NBC Lens: Gender, Ethnic, and National Equity in the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics,” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media (June 2008):

This study out of Clemson catalogued all commentary by NBC-affiliated personalities during the network’s prime-time coverage of the 2006 Winter Olympics. Not only were men covered and mentioned more extensively (even when the women were more successful), but attributions of success and failure differed by gender, too. Male athletes were seen as more composed and intelligent in victory, and less committed in defeat. Female athletes were seen as more courageous in victory, and weaker athletes in defeat. The differences were more prevalent among on-site reporters than among the (more scripted) anchors. A similar pattern was found with regard to nationality. Americans were seen as having more concentration, composure, commitment, and courage in victory, while non-Americans were granted more athletic skill. The authors note that “parallels between long-held racial stereotypes (e.g., blacks being ‘born’ athletes and whites being superior intellectually) may transfer in similar ways within the domain of nationalism.”

* * *

McGraw, P. et al., “Expectations and Emotions of Olympic Athletes,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (July 2005) (pdf here):

After the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, a team of psychologists published a widely cited study showing that Olympic athletes who had just won a bronze medal appeared to be happier than those who had just won a silver medal. The psychologists concluded that athletes’ emotional responses were not explained by missed expectations but, instead, by close-call counterfactuals: Bronze-medal winners were focused on the fact that they had come close to not winning a medal at all, while the silver-medal winners were focused on the fact that they had come close to winning a gold medal. After the 2000 Sydney Olympics, another team of psychologists updated these findings with a renewed emphasis on the role of prior expectations. They repeated the earlier study – but this time with Sydney athletes, and not just with bronze- and silver-medal winners – and found that performance, relative to media predictions or qualifying-event finishes, was the primary determinant of athletes’ emotions.

Posted in Abstracts, Emotions, Implicit Associations, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Civil Settlements – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 26, 2008

Blurry Clockface - by Neil101, FlickrJohn Bronsteen, Christopher Buccafusco, and Jonathan Masur recently posted their fascinating article, “Hedonic Adaptation and the Settlement of Civil Lawsuits” (forthcoming in the Columbia Law Review) on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

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This paper examines the burgeoning psychological literature on happiness and hedonic adaptation (a person’s capacity to preserve or recapture her level of happiness by adjusting to changed circumstances), bringing this literature to bear on a previously overlooked aspect of the civil litigation process: the probability of pre-trial settlement. The glacial pace of civil litigation is commonly thought of as a regrettable source of costs to the relevant parties. Even relatively straightforward personal injury lawsuits can last for as long as two years, delaying the arrival of necessary redress to the tort victim and forcing the litigants to expend ever greater quantities of resources. Yet these procedural delays are likely to have salutary effects on the litigation system as well. When an individual first suffers a serious injury, she will likely predict that the injury will greatly diminish her future happiness. However, during the time that it takes her case to reach trial the aggrieved plaintiff is likely to adapt hedonically to her injury – even if that injury is permanent – and within two years will report levels of happiness very close to her pre-injury state. Consequently, the amount of money that the plaintiff believes will fairly compensate her for her injury – will make her whole, in the typical parlance of tort damages – will decrease appreciably. The sum that the plaintiff is willing to accept in settlement will decline accordingly, and the chances of settlement increase – perhaps dramatically. The high costs of prolonged civil litigation are thus likely to be offset substantially by the resources saved as adaptive litigants succeed in settling before trial.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Al Seckel’s Happy Illusions

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 10, 2008

Posted in Illusions, Neuroscience, Positive Psychology, Uncategorized, Video | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Happiness Rankings by Country

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 20, 2008

Andrew Cohen of the Ottawa Citizen has a new piece that discusses a 2006 study by social psychologist Adrian White of the University of Leicester. The study, entitled “A Global Projection of Well Being: A Challenge to Positive Psychology?,” employed more than 100 studies to rank countries by their citizens’ level of happiness.

Congrats to our readers from Denmark, the happiest nation according to White’s study.

Below we excerpt portions of Cohen’s article.

* * *

When they say that the Danes are the happiest people on earth – as a widely publicized study by the University of Leicester found in 2006 – the Garden of Mythology comes to mind. After all, an airport garden, in a country that is dreary for much of the year, is fundamentally human. When the sun finally comes out, people have a heightened sense of well-being.

The study was done by Adrian White, a social psychologist. Using a battery of statistics and a survey of attitudes among 80,000 people around the globe, he created “a world map of happiness.” Of 178 countries, he found Denmark the happiest.

An odd choice, you might think, for a people known for herring and Hamlet. Or for a people described as brooding, remote and dour.

No matter. Professor White concludes that happiness is about being healthy, wealthy and wise. While much of his study is subjective, he measures levels of GDP, health and education. He also finds that countries of low population and high social cohesion tend to be happier.

Denmark, for example, is a generous welfare state. Health care is excellent. University is free and students are paid to attend. Paid holidays extend to six weeks a year. Violent crime is rare.

Unsurprisingly, the next half-dozen countries on the list – Switzerland, Austria, Iceland, The Bahamas, Finland, Sweden – are also (with some variations) small, safe, affluent and homogenous. Canada is 10th on the list, which would seem about right given its prosperity (though not its distinctive diversity).

The United States (where happiness is virtually a constitutional right) is 23rd, Germany 35th, Great Britain 41st. Japan, which is wealthy and healthy, does surprisingly badly at 90th place.

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For the rest of the article, click here. To read White’s study, click here. For other Situationist posts on happiness, click here.

Posted in Life, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , | 8 Comments »

Conversation with Dan Gilbert

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 29, 2008

Claudia Dreifus published her interview of Situationist friend, Dan Gilbert in The New York Times last week. It’s a fascinating exchange. Here’s a sample.

* * *

At Harvard, the social psychologist Daniel Gilbert is known as Professor Happiness. That is because the 50-year-old researcher directs a laboratory studying the nature of human happiness. Dr. Gilbert’s “Stumbling on Happiness” [see book cover in right margin] was a New York Times paperback best seller for 23 weeks and won the 2007 Royal Society Prize for Science Books.

Q. HOW DID YOU STUMBLE ONTO YOUR AREA OF STUDY?

A. It was something that happened to me roughly 13 years ago. I spent the first decade of my career studying what psychologists call “the fundamental attribution error,” which is about how people have the tendency to ignore the power of external situations to determine human behavior.

* * *

I’d have been content to work on this for many more years, but some things happened in my own life.

Within a short period of time, my mentor passed away, my mother died, my marriage fell apart and my teenage son developed problems in school. What I soon found was that as bad as my situation was, it wasn’t devastating. I went on.

One day, I had lunch with a friend who was also going through difficult times. I told him: “If you’d have asked me a year ago how I’d deal with all this, I’d have predicted that I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning.”

He nodded and added, “Are we the only people who could be so wrong in predicting how we’d respond to extreme stress?”

That got me thinking. I wondered: How accurately do people predict their emotional reactions to future events?

Q. HOW DOES THAT RELATE TO UNDERSTANDING HAPPINESS?

A. Because if we can’t predict how we’d react in the future, we can’t set realistic goals for ourselves or figure out how to reach to them.

What we’ve been seeing in my lab, over and over again, is that people have an inability to predict what will make us happy — or unhappy. If you can’t tell which futures are better than others, it’s hard to find happiness. The truth is, bad things don’t affect us as profoundly as we expect them to. That’s true of good things, too. We adapt very quickly to either.

So the good news is that going blind is not going to make you as unhappy as you think it will. The bad news is that winning the lottery will not make you as happy as you expect.

Q. ARE YOU SAYING THAT PEOPLE ARE HAPPY WITH WHATEVER CARDS ARE DEALT TO THEM?

A. As a species, we tend to be moderately happy with whatever we get. If you take a scale that goes from zero to 100, people, generally, report their happiness at about 75. We keep trying to get to 100. Sometimes, we get there. But we don’t stay long.

We certainly fear the things that would get us down to 20 or 10 — the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, a serious challenge to our health. But when those things happen, most of us will return to our emotional baselines more quickly than we’d predict. Humans are wildly resilient.

Q. DO MOST OF US HARBOR UNREASONABLE NOTIONS OF WHAT HAPPINESS IS?

A. Inaccurate, flawed ideas. Few of us can accurately gauge how we will feel tomorrow or next week. That’s why when you go to the supermarket on an empty stomach, you’ll buy too much, and if you shop after a big meal, you’ll buy too little.

Another factor that makes it difficult to forecast our future happiness is that most of us are rationalizers. We expect to feel devastated if our spouse leaves us or if we get passed over for a big promotion at work.

But when things like that do happen, it’s soon, “She never was right for me,” or “I actually need more free time for my family.” People have remarkable talent for finding ways to soften the impact of negative events. Thus they mistakenly expect such blows to be much more devastating than they turn out to be.

Q. SO, IF WE DIDN’T HAVE THESE MECHANISMS, WOULD WE BE TOO DEPRESSED TO GO ON?

A. There may be something to that. People who are clinically depressed often seem to lack the ability to reframe events. That suggests that if the rest of us didn’t have this, we might be depressed as well.

* * *

Click here to read the entire interview, including Dan Gilbert’s responses to the following questions: AS THE AUTHOR OF A BEST SELLER ABOUT HAPPINESS, DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE ON HOW PEOPLE CAN ACHIEVE IT?”; “HAVE YOU JUST EXPRESSED A VERY ANTI-AMERICAN IDEA?” ; SO YOU HOLD WITH THE NOTION THAT “MONEY CAN’T BUY YOU HAPPINESS”?”; and “ARE YOU, DAN GILBERT, HAPPY?”

For a list of other Situationist posts discussing Dan Gilbert’s work on happiness, click here.

Posted in Book, Choice Myth, Emotions, Life, Social Psychology, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

 
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