They Get A Buzz From Hearing Their Own Voice, Say Researchers
As a motivational speaker and executive coach, Caroline Adams Miller knows a few things about using mental exercises to achieve goals. But last year, one exercise she was asked to try took her by surprise.
Every night, she was to think of three good things that happened that day and analyse why they occurred. That was supposed to increase her overall happiness. “I thought it was too simple to be effective,” said Miller, of Bethesda, Maryland. “I went to Harvard. I’m used to things being complicated.”
But she benefited from it. “The quality of my dreams has changed, I never have trouble falling asleep and I do feel happier,” she said.
Results may vary, as they say in the weight-loss ads. But that exercise is one of several that have shown preliminary promise in recent research into how people can make themselves happier — not just for a day or two, but long-term.
There’s no shortage of advice in how to become a happier person, as a visit to any bookstore will demonstrate. In fact. The problem is, most of the books on store shelves aren’t backed up by rigorous research, says Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist at the University of California, Riverside, who’s conducting such studies now. In fact, she says, there has been very little research in how people become happier.
For decades, a widely accepted view has been that people are stuck with a basic setting on their happiness thermostat. It says the effects of good or bad life events like marriage, a raise, divorce, or disability will simply fade with time. As two researchers put it in 1996, “It may be that trying to be happier is as futile as trying to be taller.” But recent long-term studies have revealed that the happiness thermostat is more malleable than the popular theory maintained, at least in its extreme form. “Setpoint is not destiny,” says psychologist Ed Diener of the University of Illinois.
One new study showing change in happiness levels followed thousands of Germans for 17 years. It found that about a quarter changed significantly over that time in their level of satisfaction with life. Other studies show an effect of specific events, though of course the results are averages and can’t predict what will happen to particular individuals.