Lottery Winners and Paraplegics 713.3

The field of Positive Psychology pioneered by professor Martin Seligman is just over ten years old. Prior to his declaration that psychologists should study what works in life, including the factors that produce happiness and success, almost all research focused on mental illness and dysfunctional personalities.

Positive Psychology unleashed waves of useful scientific wisdom, including the conclusion that happier people tend to live longer, healthier lives, make more money, and do better at work. Thus, pursuing happiness is not simply self-indulgent pleasure seeking. It’s a good strategy for attaining a more meaningful and productive life.

A particularly interesting line of research proves what poets and philosophers have said for centuries: money can’t buy happiness. In fact, for most people even winning the lottery produces only temporary pleasure. After about a year, most lottery winners are no happier than they were before.

More surprising are studies that show that despondent and hopeless feelings caused by sudden tragedy also are short-lived. A study of adults permanently paralyzed by injury showed that after about a year, most regained the level of happiness they had before they were paralyzed.

What’s at work here is the capacity of the human psyche to adapt to pleasure and pain. Thus, playboys and party girls, thrill seekers and drug users all find that the intense enjoyment their activities once generated loses potency over time. In the same way, most people get used to disabilities and chronic pain. At least they become more manageable and free the mind to enjoy other things.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about what does produce real happiness.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 1

  1. It is amazing how much a positive attitude can improve our circumstances. When times get tough, my husband and I make a point of focusing on the accomplishments we’ve managed rather than the ones that circumstances keep out of reach. For instance, having been through several years of living right at the edge of our income, and seeing rising debt and dropping resources, we celebrated seeing a checking balance of $1.73 after scraping together $5 to make sure the account stayed in the black. We made a game of making healthy menus of the stores that remained when there was no budget for food, and felt strangely exhilarated from the experience. We are proud of how creative we’ve gotten in the face of our challenges, and grateful for the relative comfort we have been able to give our son by making difficult choices. Sure, being out of work led to high debt, but we haven’t had to default on anything, we’ve made progress paying it down and our credit rating is improving. We make things for gifts and make time for conversation and affection. We have fulfillment as well as happiness. Those habits will continue as our circumstances improve, with the help of inertia. We hope to be able to do more for our communities when there are financial resources to supplement the skills and time we invest now.

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