Debunking the Myths of Happiness
Sonja Lyubomirsky, UCR Professor of Pyschology, sat down with the Greater Good’s Jason Marsh to talk about how our assumptions about what will and won’t bring us happiness are often flat-out wrong.
Sonja Lyubomirsky: For example, marriage does make people happy, but the most famous study on marriage shows that the happiness boost only lasts for an average of two years. We also know that passionate love—the love that media and movies and literature tell us that we should all be experiencing—tends to dissipate over time. If love survives, it tends to turn into what’s called “companionate love,” which is really more about deep friendship and loyalty. But because our culture holds passionate love up as an ideal, we think that there must be something wrong with us when our relationships aren’t as exciting to us a few years later than they were at the beginning. The same thing goes for our jobs, or the amount of money we make.
Jason Marsh: Are these myths just a product of the media—or do you think they might be rooted in certain innate, perhaps psychological, propensities?
SL: Wow, that’s a good question! I do think media and the culture propagate these myths. I don’t know whether they’re hardwired or evolutionarily adaptive. I will say that the psychological phenomenon hedonic adaptation—which is a big theme of my book—does strongly affect our ideas of what makes us happy.
Hedonic adaptation means that humans beings are remarkable at getting used to changes in their lives. It is evolutionarily adaptive, and perhaps hardwired, so all of us get used to the familiar. That might be because in our ancestral environment, it was important to us to be vigilant or alert to change—a change in the environment might signal a threat, or it could signal a reward or opportunity for reward. And so when things are the same, when stimuli are constant, we don’t tend to notice them or pay attention to them very much.
But the downside of hedonic adaptation is that when a relationship becomes familiar—or when a job becomes familiar, or when your new car becomes very familiar to you—then you start taking the spouse or job or car for granted. You stop paying attention to them, and that’s when we have adapted.
This television station is providing aerial overhead views of a stadium where a construction worker just died in an elevator accident.
They think that you’re so dumb, you can’t figure out how to process the story without a moving, visual representation of the stadium.
I’m going out on a limb and assuming that the elevators won’t be killing 9er fans when the stadium opens. The story isn’t being reported for people’s safety. People don’t need to know that this happened.
But this checks every box of the modern broadcast newsworthiness test. It has sports and death all wrapped up in a story on a slow Tuesday morning. If a station DIDN’T report on it, it would be foolish. And the news has been reporting deaths in news since news began.
At the end of the day, you have to sell the news. A paper or any other outlet/medium that doesn’t take into account its readership/viewership/what-have-you is doomed to fail.
I wonder if the real tragedy of our time will be the deterioration of information. Don’t laugh, don’t act like I just took a leap. If you agree that news is not designed to inform but only entertain and engage, then you’ll realize that facts and truth will always take a backseat to sensationalism and blood.
I wonder if we’ll ever realize that our relationship with information and media is critical to the way we exist. Every single major step we’ve taken as humankind has been a result of accessing existing pools of information for progress. If that information decays or deforms, where will we step?
Many people spend their days, even their lives, connected to a screen, constantly absorbing and consuming media. Media steeped in information. Information that shapes our lives. Information demands respect. It’s as important as the ocean.
The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will often be lonely, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself
Normandy Invasion, 1944
From the Moving Images Relating to Coast Guard Activities series.
See our past D-Day posts, including Eisenhower’s Order of the Day, and his hastily drafted “in case of failure” note, and a detailed sketch of a typical Platoon Leader in full battle dress.
Page 1 of 12