Lasting happiness depends on having new positive experiences in our lives while appreciating what we already have (and not wanting more too soon).
Most people would agree that our mental health depends on happiness, yet conversely, happiness leads to our mental well-being. The search for lasting happiness appears to be a never-ending one. But a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Missouri (MU) and the University of California, Riverside, attempted to identify what makes people happier—and stay happier.
We all feel happier when we fall in love, have a baby, buy a new home, or land a new job. But over time, our happiness returns to its previous level.
Kennon Sheldon, professor of psychological sciences at MU, attempted to create a model to help people achieve more happiness through beneficial changes in their lives.
Two keys to lasting happiness
“The model consists of two major components: the need to keep having new and positive life-changing experiences and the need to keep appreciating what you already have and not want more too soon,” Sheldon says.
For many people in the study, a positive change in their lives resulted in increased happiness, but for most, the happiness faded after six weeks.
How do we stay happy?
Researchers found that people got used to the changes that made them happy, and eventually they started wanting more.
“The majority got used to the change that had made them happy in the first place,” Sheldon said. “They stopped being happy because they kept wanting more and raising their standards, or because they stopped having fresh positive experiences of the change, for example they stopped doing fun things with their new boyfriend and started wishing he was better looking. A few were able to appreciate what they had and to keep having new experiences. In the long term, those people tended to maintain their boost, rather than falling back where they started.”
Happiness is not material
Sheldon warns that happiness, in the form of new experiences, doesn’t equate to buying new things. While a new car or house can make us happier, to stay at that level of happiness we have to experience it freshly and appreciate it every day for it to have a long-term effect on our happiness.
“The problem with many purchases is that they tend to just sit there,” said Sheldon. “They don’t keep on providing varied positive experiences. Also, relying on material purchases to make us happy can lead to a faster rise in aspirations, like an addiction. Hence, many purchases tend to be only quick fixes. Our model suggests ways to reduce the ‘let down’ from those purchases. For example, if you renovate your house, enjoy it and have many happy experiences in the new environment, but don’t compare your new decor to the Joneses’.”
Today kicks off Mental Health Week in Canada. Sponsored by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), events and activities are being held in 120 communities across Canada.