The Scientist’s Guide to Happiness

Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/akijinn/3890887/">akijinn</a>


For quite a while, scientists have largely understood happiness to be fairly static. Yes, your happiness would jump when you won the lottery, but a few years later, you’d be back to your genetically-determined “set point” happiness level. But this week, scientists from Netherlands, Germany, and Australia co-authored a paper (PDF) published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that says life choices can cause permanent changes in happiness levels. Scientists had a number of findings that you might find useful. For example, women who are unattached but thin are happier than women who are obese but partnered; working more hours than you want to is better than being underemployed; people who prioritize family or altruistic goals are happier than those who pursue materialistic or self-centered goals.

Scientists found that a few things are almost guaranteed to raise your happiness levels, and they’re basic common-sense kinds of things like exercising regularly, socializing with friends, and doing charity work. Also, choose a life partner who isn’t crazy, though, the authors point out, “some neurotic individuals may have to settle for neurotic partners.” For women in particular, choice of a mate was very important: women whose partners were invested in family life were far happier than those with unsupportive partners. The authors noted that although “it would presumably be unforgivable to complete a personality inventory before deciding to live together,” BUT, they continued, if there WAS a test you wanted to give your future partner, you should choose the NEO-AC which measures “five traits that many psychologists think describe normal or nonpsychotic personality.” I think this advice might best be summarized as “Be careful and don’t marry a psycho because it’ll make you miserable.”

The study’s authors based their research on nearly 30 years of interviews with German nationals and concluded that their paper’s findings “should open up an exciting period in happiness research.” One thing the authors mentioned briefly was that although choices affect happiness, happiness also affects choices. If you’re depressed, you’re less likely to exercise and take care of yourself. So if you’re genetically pre-disposed toward depression, wouldn’t that make you (to some extent) pre-disposed toward unhappiness as well?

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate