How do we know what makes us happy?

Impact bias is when we over emphasise the impact of future events might have on us. For example, we imagine that winning the lottery will have a significant impact on our happiness. We make the assumption that we will be happier as a result of our material gain; in fact, the research suggests that within a year happiness levels will be the same as they are now. Incredibly the same is true for people who become paraplegic and loose the use of their legs. Within a year their happiness levels are the same. The principle is that major events have little effect on our happiness long term. In theory of knowledge emotions are described as a way of knowing. Psychologists identify happiness as one of the six primary emotions. One relevant knowledge issue is ‘How do we know what makes us happy?’

For more ideas about this watch the excellent TED clip with Dan Gilbert a psychology professor at Harvard who asks, ‘Why are we happy?’

So what are the implications? What does make us happy? It appears that the desire to get more stuff and ‘shop ’til you drop’ may not be the path to happiness. The implications are significant for economics. However, the economy might cease to function if people realised that they didn’t need to buy things to make themselves feel better? Why else do people sometimes buy things (clothes, make-up, cosmetics, and fast cars); to feel good about themselves. Instead, feeling grateful for what you have may be a step on the path to happiness.

For more, see the BBC happiness website and the ‘science of happiness’.

According to psychologist Professor Ed Diener the ingredients for happiness are family, friends, marriage, a meaning in life and long term goals.

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