The Adaptation Effect: The effect of life changes on happiness
The search for happiness is universal. We all want to be happy, and we work to achieve this emotional state in everything we do. Nobody deliberately does something that they know would affect them negatively, right?
But just like other emotions, happiness is fleeting. It ebbs and flows, influenced by the experiences we go through in our everyday lives. But how much?
What is the Adaptation Effect?
Studies have shown that we have a tendency to adapt to major changes in our lives, whether positive or negative. This is what’s referred to as The Adaptation Effect. After a particularly significant life event, we will react accordingly, either with grief or elation, but after a while, our happiness level will return to previous levels.
Let’s say you won a million dollars today, will that make you a happy person? Of course, it will, for a time. But after a few months, when your desires and expectations adjust to your new situation, so will your happiness level.
When you lose someone you love, no matter how important they are to you, you will go through a period of grief and mourning, but eventually – you will find happiness again.
Such is the resilience of human beings. Such is the power of our human brain. The stability of our emotions is essential to our well-being, and our brains will work to reduce the effect of our environment on our emotions. We adapt.
Interesting Facts to Ponder About Happiness
In a study conducted by a team of psychologists from The University of Massachusetts and Northwestern University, they concluded that lottery winners were not significantly happier than the control group participants. On the other side of the study, they found that people with spinal cord injuries were not as miserable as one might expect.
In a research finding published in the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, they found that divorced couples were happier after their separation was finalized. Did that contradict the concept of a happiness set point? Do major events change our happiness levels in the long run?
A research conducted by Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, a University of California showed that people can achieve long-term happiness and an increase in well-being when they make a conscious effort to think positively, count their blessings and perform acts of kindness. 40% of our happiness are within our control. You can create your own happiness by adopting habits that encourage joy. Such as forcing yourself to smile or focusing on the positive. Denmark has been named The Happiest Country several times. The US is in the 17th spot.
Job Satisfaction is said to have a significant impact on our long term happiness, which is why people who suddenly contract a long-term illness or disability which impairs their ability to work has a lowered mean life satisfaction of 6.49, as compared to those without disabilities at 7.39.
Another British study concluded that ‘death in the family’ and ‘end of a relationship’ had the highest negative impact on long term happiness. It also showed that what matters most to people is social well-being and interpersonal relationships. Next is employment which relates to social respect and self-esteem. A surprising finding is that the state of ‘nothing happened’ or stagnation led to acute depression.
Sources of Happiness
These findings show that to maintain a state of happiness we have to keep on reaching for that elevated mood. It can be compared to running on a treadmill. But since our happiness goes back to a certain Set Point or level as we adapt, this means that it’s a never ending search. Does this mean that it is not possible to achieve long term happiness?
The studies mentioned above suggests that to achieve long term happiness and well-being, we need to find more than the ‘fleeting’ kind. We need to be involved in things that will feed and nurture these positive emotions for a long time.
Read more about how you can achieve long term happiness:
People with few social ties are two to three times more likely to suffer from major depression than people with strong social bonds.
The most successful people, in work and in life, are those who have what psychologists call an internal locus of control - the belief that their actions have a direct effect on their outcomes.
Scientists once thought happiness was almost completely hereditary (dictated by a genetically determined “set point”). But thankfully, they have since discovered that in fact we have far more control over our own emotional well-being than previously believed.
Exercise has been proven to be just as helpful as an anti-depressant medicine. And the effect is much more lasting.
- Wikipedia: The Hedonic Treadmill
- Internal Journal of Epidemiology: Measuring the impact of major life events upon happiness
- American Psychological Association: Is our happiness set in stone?