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5 Life Changing Ideas from Happiness Research

What is a greater priority in your life: happiness or success?

While it is possible to achieve both, we often sacrifice one for the other when making major life decisions such as what career to pursue, whether to move to the suburbs to afford a bigger house, or whether to attend a family event if it means getting less work done.

The science of happiness, also known as positive psychology, basically studies human behavior and positive emotions with the aim of determining what factors can result in an increased level of happiness. The conclusions from this research can provide interesting insights into how we can maximize our happiness.

The following concepts are featured in the book Happiness Hypothesis, which is a great book for learning about the findings from happiness research.

Does Increased Income Improve Happiness?

Research that examines the correlation between income and happiness has found that increased income has a very small correlation with happiness for most people. The exception is for people who live in the conditions of poverty, in which money can help provide basic necessities like food, shelter, and transportation. Once people reach the middle class however, additional income tends to have little effect on happiness.

This counterintutive finding can be explained by our ability to quickly adapt to new conditions, also known as “the adaptation principle”. While winning the lottery may provide an immediate boost in happiness, studies suggest that  lottery winners return to a level close to their baseline happiness in about one year. We’ve all heard stories of the miserable millionaire or the unhappy but successful professional. This finding suggests that it can be a big mistake to pursue a career primarily to gain a higher salary over a career that you intrinsically enjoy.

The Progress Principle

Pursuing worthwhile goals is often a major aspect of how we choose to spend our time. People can spend years pursuing a specific goal while imagining how happy they will be once their goal has been achieved. However, “the progress principle” suggests that we receive more happiness from making progress toward our goal than we do from achieving a goal. This can be explained by our brain’s reward system which provides a boost in dopamine immediately after we make progress towards a goal in order to encourage behavior that leads to genetically favorable outcomes like accumulating wealth or power. This supports the old adage that the journey is more important than the destination or as Shakespeare said : “Things won are done, joy’s soul lies in the doing”. If you are not enjoying the journey, you may not be pursuing the best goal.

Reducing Your Commute

The American Dream has traditionally involved getting a good job at a corporation so that you can buy a nice house in the suburbs. However, the adaptation principle comes into play as we quickly adapt to having a larger home but we typically don’t adapt to a traffic filled and unpredictable commute. People who experience slow traffic arrive to work with higher stress hormones in their blood and commuting to work is often reported as one of the most unpleasant activities in our day. Choosing to live closer to your work, even if you have to buy a smaller home, can be a wise decision in terms of maximizing your happiness.

The Importance of Relationships

One of the strongest variables in happiness that we can control is our personal relationships. An increased quantity and quality of personal connections can have a significant impact on our happiness. This is one reason that people who attend church are happier on average than non-church goers and married people are happier on average than single people. Spending more time with your close family or friends rather than working extra hours can also lead to a happier life. Additionally, your income can provide a more positive impact on happiness if you choose to spend it on experiences that you share with family and friends such as a dinner at a restaurant or a vacation instead of buying luxury items like expensive cars or accessories.

Finding Flow

Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi coined the name “flow” for the idea of engaging so deeply in an activity that you lose track of time. The Happiness Hypothesis describes flow as the “state of total immersion in a task that is challenging yet closely matched to one’s abilities. It is what some people call ‘being in the zone'”. Finding what activities lead to a state of flow for you, such as playing a sport or writing a guest blog post, and allocating more time to these activities can lead to a more enjoyable career and life.

Happiness research may not provide the secret to achieving happiness but it can suggest ways in which we can potentially increase it. The conclusions are often based on the “average person” so these ideas may not work for everyone. However understanding the findings from happiness research and experimenting in your own life can help you determine what will ultimately lead to “the good life” for you.

What do you think about these ideas? Do you have any experiences that support or contradict any of these ideas? Please leave a comment below.

Charles Sipe enjoys listening to audiobooks, blogging and playing basketball. He is also the editor of Criminal Justice Degree Schools, a resource site providing information on criminal justice degrees and careers.


Related Articles:

Finding Bliss: How to Reverse Engineer Happiness

The 6 Components of a Happy Life

  • Ita

    I think I can never thank you enough for what you do, Lori. I have spent more than 30 years of my life believing I was attracted more to the negative pole and been admiring really positive people who can deal with their problems or handling their situations calmly and maturely-something i didn’t think i might have in this life!!! (I am 35 now) But your program this far has helped me to come to a clearer understanding of changing my perspective. I am away much happier and able to turn to the inner me quicker. But thank you, Lori. Lori, you are an amazing gift from the universe. You were adopted and those big crisises in your life, somehow just help you to be this wonderful you!!! Would you please, try to speak slowly and calmly next time? My Indonesian ears don’t want to miss your fabulous messages,please. Again, Thank you Lori. And God Bless You.

    • Hi Ita!…This post is actually written by Charles Sipe! But thank you for your comment, none the less. Lori runs the “Outrageous” program for us…

  • Like the quote goes: “Success is getting what you want; Happiness is wanting what you get.” What if it is your success that makes you happy though? Some people find true happiness in the art of accomplishment. Then in this case Success would equal Happiness.


    • I think success itself rarely leads to happiness. On the other hand, the pursuit of worthwhile goals in which there is a frequent feeling of progress does lead to feelings of positive well being. The moment of achievement is often short lived and provides only a momentary boost in our sense of well being.

  • Tesfay

    thank u very life is shaping by the articles posted every day by the pick up the brain team.

  • I’m a believer of this philosophy as well. I’ve let higher paying opportunities go by because of the happiness my job brings currently. Sometimes the ability to take time off to help your family, working in a compatible company culture, and having a beautiful work environment is worth more than the extra pay.

    • I agree. The book Happiness Hypothesis describes our mind as a rider and an elephant. The rider is the rational side that might realize that a little extra money is not worth spending longer days at work and taking on more stress. But the elephant, or the emotional side wants the additional prestige of a higher position and more money than co-workers. Our emotional side often dominates our decision making, which can lead us to an unhappy state.

  • Being happy without having to rely on outside things is a great way to live our lives.

    Many people have the degrees, the big job and house and car and are still not happy.

    Life without happiness is like eating food without flavor.

    • Good point. In Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt points out that one of the biggest findings in happiness research is that happiness is largely dependent on our genetics. However there are outside variables that do play a role in increasing our happiness such as the items mentioned in the article. The important point is to not fall into the trap of pursuing things that tend not lead to happiness such as a larger house or conspicuous consumption items.

    • I second that. I have seen some families in my family, they are having all the necessities and luxury life and still they are unhappy for nothing.

      • jamil

        True. i ve experienced some people having everything in life but not happiness. They are married and no love.they live an empty life with a lot of money.

  • Ask

    Meditation is one of the easiest techniques you can learn to refuel your body, mind and spirit. While many of us have heard of the benefits of meditation, few of us actually want to spend the time it takes to learn how to meditate. We often cling to stress, fear and anxiety because we think we need these things in order to function in this fast-paced world.

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  • A2022750

    Jacksonville — I liked the moves they made to their defense in the offseason, especially adding tackle-machine MLB Paul Posluszny(notes) and hard-hitting Authentic Cardinals Jersey S Dawan Landry(notes).

  • Futurepower3000
  • Happiness

    I think 
    happiness comes to those who open their doors for small treats of their life.

  • Groupracers

    Surprised no-one’s mentioned having a dog! They give unconditional love, forgive everything (within reason), don’t betray you, keep your secrets, get you playing like when you were a kid, get you out exercising in the fresh air, and are a great way to meet people and socialize (we can’t go a whole mile anywhere without strangers coming up to us ooohing, aahing, asking if they/their kids can pat him, what breed he is etc!)  Require time and money for proper training and care, but the most rewarding and delightful way you could ever spend that, they pay you back oh so many times over!

  • Groupracers

    Surprised no-one’s mentioned having a dog! They give unconditional love, forgive everything (within reason), don’t betray you, keep your secrets, get you playing like when you were a kid, get you out exercising in the fresh air, and are a great way to meet people and socialize (we can’t go a whole mile anywhere without strangers coming up to us ooohing, aahing, asking if they/their kids can pat him, what breed he is etc!)  Require time and money for proper training and care, but the most rewarding and delightful way you could ever spend that, they pay you back oh so many times over!

    • Melissa

      Completely agree! My dog keeps me focused on living in the moment. And he makes other people happy too, which makes me feel great. (He’s a paralyzed Beagle who loves to play fetch in the park in his wheels! Check out for his story if you are interested.) So he does two things- gets me out of my head to appreciate life right now and he gives the gift of inspiration to me and others. It is sometimes hard caring for a paralyzed animal, but what I give him pales in comparison to what he gives me back. To be happy… think like a dog! Live in the now, forget the past, go after what you want with all your heart, show your appreciation to others, and just keep going, no matter what life throws at you!

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