Happiness and Subjective Well-Being: Part 2
Welcome back! In the last lecture, we introduced the concept of happiness and subjective well-being. We described how some factors linked to happiness are not in our control, whereas others are. In this lecture, we are going to continue our discussion on what does (and doesn’t) lead to happiness.
Ok, let’s start by addressing the proverbial elephant in the room, money. Probably no other topic has been debated more when it comes to happiness. A lot of people believe that money can make you happy, yet many people do not. So, does money buy happiness? Once again, the answer is somewhat complicated. First, research suggests that on average, living in a richer country is associated with being happier (Diener et al., 2003). Societies that provide their citizens with a good standard of living and social support reap the rewards in terms of overall well-being. But what about individual wealth?
Persona wealth. The relationship between happiness and personal wealth is nuanced. Does having more money make you happy? Maybe the better question is: Does not having enough money make you unhappy? Yes, it does. Research on this topic suggests that having enough money to pay your bills and to live comfortably is important to avoid misery. It was long believed that happiness plateaus at a certain income level, about $75,000 in the United States (Kahneman & Deaton, 2010). In other words, once your salary passes a certain threshold, happiness no longer meaningfully increases. This is called hedonic adaptation (Lyubomirsky, 2010). However, a very recent and robust study conducted by Killingsworth and colleagues (2021) suggests that this is actually not the case, and that happiness does continue to increase past $75,000. At this point, when it comes to happiness and personal wealth, the jury is still out.
What is clearer, however, is that how you spend your money can be linked to happiness. Some people are higher on trait materialism, meaning that they place more value on accumulating material possessions like big houses and fancy sports cars (Belk, 1985). The problem is, purchasing new “toys” only provides a short-term blip in happiness levels. An abundance of research indicates that money is better spent on experiential purchases, things such as vacations and trips (Kumar et al., 2020). These experiences allow people to bond with others, strengthen social relationships, and learn new things. This provides a nice segue to the next factor linked to happiness, relationships.
Fulfilling relationships. A massive predictor of day-to-day and long-term happiness is the quality of social and romantic relationships. Human beings are social creatures, even the most introverted among us require close relationships to thrive both physically and psychologically. A lack of meaningful relationships is quite detrimental to our health. Research has consistently demonstrated that being in a loving and fulfilling romantic relationship is strongly linked to greater happiness. Married people also tend to be happier than single people. Furthermore, having quality friendships/family relationships, that allow for a strong network of social support in times of need, are also major contributors to happiness (Demir, 2013).
Career and meaning. So, what do you do for a living? This is easily one of the most common questions people ask when they meet someone for the first time. Having a fulfilling career is very important to happiness. On the flip side, being unemployed is known to make people unhappy. Now, the link between employment and happiness is more about just making money. Our careers also give us a sense of meaning, we often integrate our jobs into our sense of self (Hetschko et al., 2021). Having this identity is often crucial to our well-being.
Ok, let’s finish up this lecture with a few tips for increasing happiness that are based on scientific evidence. First, being kind to others can directly impact your own happiness. Acts of kindness are good for others and yourself (Curry, et al. 2018). Second, understand that how you perceive events is very important. Focusing on optimism (over pessimism) and viewing negative setbacks as an opportunity to learn can alter your thinking and emotional mindset. Lastly, work on your relationships and focus on experiential experiences that involve other people. Spending time with friends and family will make you feel happier over the long term.
In the next lecture, we will move on to discuss the concept of flow. See you tomorrow!
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