Pursuing Happiness: The Fragility of Contentment

This latest New Yorker article is a nice follow up to my quote of the day on the pursuit of happiness. It’s required reading for anyone interested in this, and includes nice overviews of the recent books The Happiness Hypothesis and Happiness: A History.

I’m a believer in positive psychology (that’s why I loved Flow – happiness is an experience to be cultivated) but some folks quoted in this article say that once we’re out of poverty the most important determinant of happiness is our "set point," which is inherited. "Within a year, lottery winners and paraplegics have both (on average) returned most of the way to their baseline levels of happiness."

Do you buy this? I buy it halfway. I still believe voluntary activities, state of mind, and other circumstances play a role. But I’m also an unabashed "nature" believer.

The article concludes with a witty yet misguided assumption. "If you want to be happy, don’t ever ask yourself if you are." I suppose that it’s possible for an unhappy person to become even more unhappy as they contemplate their unhappiness. Yet I think this is a one way street. I don’t think a happy person can become unhappy if their contemplation "presses unhappily hard on us." I am happy, and also like thinking about my own energetic quest for even more happiness, and more spiritual fulfillment.

2 comments on “Pursuing Happiness: The Fragility of Contentment
  • The problem with the “don’t think about happiness” approach is that we don’t live in a vacuum.

    If we don’t think about the subject, we’ll let our environment do the thinking for us.

    In Silicon Valley, that means basing my happiness on how much I make, how many people comment on my blog, and whether or not I’m on some “A-list” list.

    We have to consider the issue of happiness simply to counteract the outside influences that have spent billions to shape our thinking.

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