Health

Why happiness isn't always the most important thing

Is happiness everything? It could that while 80-hour-a-week job is mentally draining and sometimes soul sucking, it also offers your children the security and comforts to do things they love, such as hockey games and ballet lessons.

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Is happiness everything? It could that while 80-hour-a-week job is mentally draining and sometimes soul sucking, it also offers your children the security and comforts to do things they love, such as hockey games and ballet lessons. Or maybe your part-time job, which isn’t your dream job by any means, is one that gives you the flexibility to be with your mom — who’s getting older now, and often struggles to do her laundry and needs help getting to the doctor’s offices.

Ultimately we’re all searching for happiness, but it’s not the only goal in our lives. And in making our many lifestyle decisions, sometimes happiness factors into our them, but more often than not it gets weighed in with other key considerations, such as how much control we have over our lives, our own health, and more. So reports a new study from Cornell University and the University of Michigan which surveyed 2,699 people to find out: what would maximize their well being or happiness? Alex Rees-Jones, a PhD student at Cornell and one of the lead researchers on the project, tells us more.

Q: What were some of the key conclusions coming from your research?

A: When we conducted the study, we tried to answer the question: when you make choices in your life, do you choose the option you think will make you the happiest? For some, the answer is no. While predictions about happiness are important considerations in decision making, they are not the only considerations. We asked our survey respondents about hypothetical scenarios, such as choosing between a job that pays $80,000 per year but enables you to get 7.5 hours of sleep per night, and a job that pays $120,000 per year but only lets you get six hours of sleep a night.

On average, there are systematic differences between what people choose and what people think would make them happier. For example, people are more likely to choose the higher-income/lower-sleep job than one they think will make them happier.

Q: So how did happiness weigh into the decisions people made?

A: We asked them to predict how the options would affect various aspects of their lives. We had them compare how the two options would affect their own happiness, family’s happiness, health, romance, social life, control over their life, spirituality, fun, social status, boringness, physical comfort, and sense of purpose. We found that people are sometimes willing to choose an option they think will give them less happiness if they think it will give them a greater sense of purpose, higher social status, a greater sense of control, or a higher level of their family’s happiness.

Q: So what can our readers learn from this study?

A: That happiness isn’t everything. It is something that decision makers certainly care a lot about, but it is only one of many goals which people pursue.

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