Secret of Finding Happiness Explained
Money Can't Buy Happiness but Health and Family Can
WebMD News Archive
Aug. 25, 2003 -- The key to finding happiness may be learning
to shift personal priorities from the boardroom to the bedroom.
New research provides evidence to support the old adage,
"You can't buy happiness." It suggests that people will find happiness
by focusing more on family life and health issues and less on career and
Researchers say people spend too much time worrying about
achieving professional and monetary goals that may never bring them true
happiness. But by devoting more time to personal health and family life, people
will find lasting happiness.
Researcher Richard Easterlin, an economist at the University of
California, argues that a new approach to finding happiness is needed that
combines the two prevailing theories of happiness in psychology and
According to the psychological view of happiness, each
individual is born with their own setpoint for happiness that's determined by
personality and genetics. Life events, such as marriage, loss of a job, and
serious injury or disease, can temporarily raise or lower a person's level of
happiness above or below this predetermined level, but they will eventually
return to the original level.
In contrast, the economic "more is better" view of
happiness argues that life circumstances and the growth of income have lasting
effects on happiness.
But Easterlin argues that life events like marriage, divorce,
and serious disability, have a lasting rather than temporary effect on
happiness. And an increase in income doesn't necessarily bring lasting
happiness because a person's expectations are also raised by through adaptation
and social comparison as they achieve greater wealth.
A better theory of happiness, Easterlin says, should take into
account the fact that happiness found through family life and personal health
is affected much less by heightened expectations and social comparison than
happiness sought through financial gains.
Make More Time for Health and Family
Easterlin says people make decisions assuming that more income,
comfort, and positional goods will make them happier, but they fail to
recognize that adaptation and social comparison will come into play and raise
their aspirations to about the same extent as their actual gains, which leaves
them feeling no happier than before.
"As a result, most individuals spend a disproportionate
amount of their lives working to make money, and sacrifice family life and
health, domains in which aspirations remain fairly constant as actual
circumstances change, and where the attainment of one's goals has a more
lasting impact on happiness," writes Easterlin.
"Hence, a reallocation of time in favor of family life and
health would, on average, increase individual happiness," Easterlin