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Monday 21st May 2018

Happiness levels shift

14th March 2007

A new European study has tested 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.


Michigan State University professor Richard Lucas led the team which studied nearly 40,000 people in Germany and the UK over 21 and 14 years respectively.

The review, published in the April edition of Current Directions in Psychological Science, found that major life events such as getting divorced, losing a job, or becoming disabled could reset the happiness set point, at a higher or lower level than before.

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

Shifts in happiness levels sometimes took many years and didn't always lead back to previous levels of life satisfaction, the study showed.

For instance, Lucas said it took 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, while a boost in happiness that came with getting married often faded within a couple of years. This meant the partners returned to their previous levels of happiness, whatever they had been before the marriage.

Perhaps predictably, participants in the study reported a drop in life satisfaction after getting divorced or losing a job, and they didn't always bounce back to their previous level of life satisfaction after those events.

But ending an unhappy marriage or losing an unsatisfying job might, eventually, lead to higher satisfaction.

Lucas concluded that happiness was "moderately stable" over time but warned that people could still experience "large and lasting changes" in the feeling.


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