Happy People Stay Happy In New Situations

I talked to my good friend Howard last night, who’s started at the University of Michigan, and it struck me that those of us who were happy in high school and happy about life have stayed happy in college (or in gap years). Those who were unhappy have gone to college and stayed in a funk. There are exceptions, of course, but it’s remarkable how "happy people" just seem to find the bright side of a new situation.

This is more evidence for the "genetic baseline" theory of happiness which says even extraordinary events like winning the lottery or losing a loved one will not have an enduring impact on our day-to-day happiness.

5 comments on “Happy People Stay Happy In New Situations
  • I think disillusionment (as part of the unhappiness) does not typically kick in until you failed a few times for the reasons beyond your control (“market forces” etc.)

    At college/Uni, if you screw up, there is nobody to blame for it but yourself (well, you can say that a professor was in a bad mood that morning…)

    And then there is an infamous “midlife crisis” which can (and does) happen whether you are generally happy or not. Hm, I wonder if there is any link with “HAPPy” and “HAPPen”… 🙂

  • I think happiness and disillusionment are two diferent things. I believe that there are people who are optimists and this does have to do with their general makeup. They will be optimists during the best and the worst of times. They will pass through life stages that teach them different lessons, but the optimists will not become bitter about these lessons.

    Midlife crises happen because people have let the “shoulds” in their lives overtake the “wants”. As gender roles blur and people understand they need to follow their dreams more, the stereotypical midlife crisis is less and less talked-about.

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  • Marty Seligman’s work on optimism and happiness shows that happiness depends more on your personal explanatory style than on outside occurrences.

    You might think that you’d rather win the lottery than be paralyzed, but studies clearly show that one year later, the lottery winners are no happier than the paralyzed.

  • Midlife crisis is exactly what it says on the tin. You reach the point in your life (pinnacle from the age perspective) when you can see the lived half and envisage the remaining half. And that’s when the reality kicks in – you can clearly see things for which the “window of opportunity” has closed (sure, “it’s never too late”, but at what price). You don’t have to have any regrets about that, but knowing, for example, that there are many things, for example, which you will never be able to experience for the first time in your life, makes you “sad”.

    As for the money, it does not bring happiness, but it does make life A LOT easier (and helps you to discover what a true happiness is – if you know how to use the money for that purpose).

  • I loved high school and was a pretty happy teen all around, and when I hit Denison my freshman year, I did a good job of finding a group of friends I enjoyed–but I still hated it there & was generally miserable and knew I would be transferring after a few months. I learned later that kids from my particular high school often go into culture shock when they hit college and end up having a frosh-year-freakout.

    I could’ve used a gap year.

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