The secret to happiness?

A new study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin says the secret to making happiness last longer is continuing to appreciate the good things after they have occurred.

Researchers at the University of Missouri looked at “hedonic adaptation”, which is the human tendency to gradually adjust to positive changes over time until they become the norm and no longer make us happy. That initial emotional high fades and we are left looking for a new high and new things to make us feel happy again — not unlike hamsters spinning on a wheel.

Through studying 481 adults over three months in three waves, researchers found that hedonic adaptation can be prevented so long as a person shows continued appreciation for the positive change or event that initially made him or her happy.

Halfway through the study, participants were asked to give an account of something that had happened to them since beginning the study that brought them joy. After another six weeks, they were asked about the event and if they still felt positive about it and enjoyed new opportunities because of it.

An example of this comes when people are successful at shedding unhealthy weight. Those who continue to feel satisfaction from their weight loss — such as fitting into smaller clothes every day and receiving positive attention — often gain the added benefit of a boost in confidence to take on a marathon or join the dating scene and so forth. These people feel gratitude in smaller, varied ways every day — so the joy they initially felt from losing weight continues as time passes. It also gives motivation to keep the weight off.

Conversely, the study participants who stopped appreciating the positive event and instead aspired for more good things to happen, saw a drop in their happiness levels.

Study author Kennon Sheldon, professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri told the Vancouver Sun, “It’s really about getting the most out of what you have before moving onto the next thing. Otherwise, (the pursuit of happiness) can become like an addiction, where we’re always looking for the next hit.”

If you need more motivation to delay hedonic adaptation from kicking in, just look at what being happy does for your health. Happy people, for instance, are more likely to live longer and less likely to fall ill. Anxiety, pessimism and depression have long been associated with higher disease rates and a shorter lifespan.

Sources: Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin; Vancouver Sun; Globe and Mail; Science Daily

Photo © Wackerhausen

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