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Myth 24: Happiness is Determined Mostly by Our External Circumstances (50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology)

In the book The Happiness Myth, Hecht observes that each generation had its prescriptions for ultimate happiness. Some of these included bizarre aphrodisiacs like Spanish fly, chocolate, and green M & M candies. But things are no less silly today, arguably, with things like feng shui, aromatherapy, and mood enhancing crystals.

The old trope is that to find happiness, you must find the equation somewhere. And usually this equation involves money, a beautiful house, a great job, and many pleasurable events. On Amazon, there are many books such as Money and Happiness: A Guide to Living the Good Life, Eric Tyson’s (2006) Mind over Money: Your Path to Wealth and Happiness, and M. P. Dunleavy’s (2007) Money Can Buy Happiness: How to Spend to Get the Life You Want.

But it might be that the answer is very simple, happiness is about your perception of life as much as it is about your life itself.

Research by Kahneman showed that major job benefits were only loosely correlated with happiness, while sleep quality and predisposition to depression were good predictors.

Other research supports the hedonic treadmill idea.

Just as we quickly adjust our walking or running speed to match a treadmill’s speed (if we don’t, we’ll end up face first on the ground), our moods adjust quickly to most life circumstances. The hedonic treadmill hypothesis dovetails with research demonstrating that ratings of happiness are much more similar within pairs of identical twins, who are genetically identical, than within pairs of fraternal twins, who share only 50% of their genes on average (Lykken & Tellegen, 1996).

This suggests that our genetic makeup is a large determinant of our happiness, that we are each born with a happiness baseline, which we bounce up and down in response to life events.

More evidence for this comes from people who have experienced extremely positive or negative life events.

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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