Happiness is not really different in each person. In fact, science shows us happiness is basically the same for all of us. And our roadblocks to happiness are all basically the same as well — that we each think we are special and the research doesn’t apply to us, so we just keep trying to earn more accolades or more money.
That said, here are some checkup tests to take to see how you’re doing in the happiness department.
You were born with a genetic disposition to being happy (or not).
Scientific American writes about hedonic adaptation which is basically our ability to return to our regular level of happiness no matter how much money we have. (The classic study for this is from the 1970s which found that after two years, lottery winners were no more happy than they were before the big win.)
So instead of making the irrational assumption that you are different than the rest of the human race, try accepting that you aren’t, and look for happiness somewhere other than money.
In fact, your set point for happiness is mostly genetic – based on how optimistically you approach the world. But you can make a 40% impact on your optimism level by changing your daily routine in relatively small ways – like doing a bunch of random acts of kindness in one day, on a weekly basis.
Sonja Lyubomirsky’s new book, the How of Happiness is packaged to look like a sequel to Daniel Gilbert’s bestselling book, Stumbling on Happiness, and it sort of is a sequel. Lyubomirsky is a professor of psychology at University of California, Riverside, and she describes twelve steps you can take to change your happiness set point – and the science behind those suggestions.
Wondering if you’re an optimistic thinker? Here’s the test. (middle of the page)
Burnout undermines your happiness, and it’s not about time.
Burnout has little to do with how many hours you work and a lot to do with the type of work you’re doing. Burnout comes from not being able to achieve what you want to achieve even though you are working hard to get it. It’s a situation where you have goals you can’t pin down (like if you work for four bosses) or goals you can’t meet (like if you have an impossible deadline).
People who are most susceptible to burnout are nurses in pediatric burn units because the goal is so clear and so urgent – stop the pain in small children – but it’s an impossible goal to meet.
Other people who are susceptible, though, are lawyers, who are at the beck and call of clients who generally cannot be pleased because they are in legal trouble and upset about it, and even if they are not in legal trouble, who likes spending money on a lawyer?
The thing is that a lot of lawyers make a lot of money. So the money part does not ward off against burnout and might even make you feel more compelled to stay in a bad situation.
Are you on the road to burnout? Here’s the test. (middle of the page)
Stop telling yourself it’s about your job.
One of the first things people think when they are unhappy is that they need to change their job. Maybe they’ll get a job that pays more, or that allows them to be their true self, or will be their dream job.
But you know what? A job does not make you happy, it only makes you unhappy. And forget about that raise, because the incremental happiness you get from earning more than, say, $100,000 is barely noticeable. (Yes, even if you have a family of four in San Francisco. Stop thinking you’re the exception to every rule. It’s a flaw that undermines your ability to change.)
The thing that increases our happiness is our relationships. A job cannot make those better. However a job can make you so unhappy that you can’t relish the relationships in your life.
Do you want to know if the problem is your job? It’s not likely, but here’s the test.
Align your goals with what really makes you happy.
A lot of you are probably incredulous. Maybe you think the American Dream is about getting a good job and earning more money than your parents. But the American Dream used to be about moving west and buying land, and now we see that as something for older generations that doesn’t apply to us. So maybe the idea of more money and better jobs is the new detritus of the American dream, and if you don’t believe me, maybe you have an outdated outlook.
Wondering if you think like your grandma? Here’s the test.