Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Health & Balance

Font Size

Can Your Happiness Change for Good?

Major Life Events May Shift Your Long-Term Happiness Level
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 7, 2007 -- Once happy, always happy? Once grumpy, always grumpy? Maybe not, according to a new review of happiness research.

The review focuses on the "happiness set point" theory, which suggests that people have a happiness set point, a natural level of happiness they gravitate to, despite temporary rises and falls in happiness.

But your happiness set point may not be carved in stone, suggests Michigan State University professor Richard Lucas, PhD.

Major life events such as getting divorced, losing a job, or becoming disabled may reset your happiness set point, writes Lucas.

"Happiness levels do change; adaptation is not inevitable; and life events do matter," Lucas says.

His review appears in the April edition of Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Psychology of Happiness

Lucas reviewed data from a German study of nearly 40,000 people and a British study of more than 27,000.

The German study lasted 21 years; the British study for 14 years. Participants annually rated their life satisfaction and reported any major life changes they had experienced in the past year.

As the happiness set point theory suggests, people tended to adapt to major life events. But that process sometimes took many years and didn't always lead back to previous levels of life satisfaction.

For instance, Lucas notes that it takes about seven years after the death of a spouse for widows and widowers to return to the level of life satisfaction they had before their spouse died.

Meanwhile, the temporary bounce in happiness after getting married generally fades "within just a couple of years," writes Lucas. That doesn't mean married people are unhappy, just that -- within a few years -- they become about as happy as they were before saying "I do."

Lucas also noticed that, understandably, people reported less life satisfaction after getting divorced or losing a job. But he didn't see people bounce back to their previous level of life satisfaction after those events.

That doesn't mean getting divorced or losing a job always lowers long-term happiness.

Not all marriages or jobs are happy and satisfying. So for some, divorce and job loss may ultimately lead to a better life.

People also vary a lot in how much they adapt to life events, Lucas notes.

The researcher doesn't dismiss the happiness set point theory. He says happiness is "moderately stable" over time but warns that people can still experience "large and lasting changes" in the feeling.

Today on WebMD

woman in yoga class
6 health benefits of yoga.
beautiful girl lying down of grass
10 relaxation techniques to try.
mature woman with glass of water
Do you really need to drink 8 glasses of water a day?
coffee beans in shape of mug
Get the facts.
Take your medication
Hand appearing to hold the sun
Hungover man
Welcome mat and wellington boots
Woman worn out on couch
Happy and sad faces
Fingertip with string tied in a bow
laughing family