Our ability to adapt to most of what life throws at us is both blessing and curse. Just like our bodies adjust to a weight set point, our moods tend to have a set point too. Take happiness, for example. We might get super excited about a promotion or a new car or a new love, or get super bummed about a snafu or a loss or a setback. More briefly than you would imagine, your happiness level rises or falls. But either way, our mood set point will soon reestablish itself in a phenomenon known as “hedonic adaptation.” We’ll get used to the loss or gain, and revert to our habitual level of cheer regardless.
Intrepid happiness explorer Sonja Lyubomirsky talks about happiness myths of all kinds in a recent New York Times article. I love her descriptions of character traits of happy and unhappy people, and thought I could extrapolate some ideas for nudging your happiness set point up a bit.
Here’s one thing you can do to raise your happiness level: random acts of kindness can make you feel happier, but only if there is no obligation involved. Spontaneous acts of kindness work best. If you feel compelled, kindness will feel like a chore—and not make you feel so great.
And here are two things to avoid if you want to be happier:
Comparison, is just as Mark Twain says, “The death of joy.” Lyubomirsky’s research found that unhappy people compare a lot and take inordinate care in results. This is their mindset: “They tend to feel better when they get poor evaluations but learn others did worse than when they get excellent evaluations but learn others did better.” If you recognize a part of yourself in that response, might be time to reexamine your priorities. The idea that personal success requires others to fail might be a major source of your unhappiness.
Another surprising trait of unhappy people is the need to rationalize most of life’s circumstances. Unhappy people tend to derogate what they don’t choose. For example, if they choose a to buy a Honda, they might derogate Toyotas and all the other makes. A happy person might choose a Honda but feel Toyotas are just as good a a brand. The belief is that unhappy people do more mental work—and mental processing—than happy ones.
Next time you catch yourself comparing, or derogating, nip the thought in its tracks. It’s the quickest spoiler out there.