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Psychological research on the causes of happiness

  1. Aug 22, 2009 #1
    I am interested by analytical investigation into the causes of happiness. I've spent some time pondering these questions from a purely analytical perspective in the past, and come to some of my own conclusions...but I'm not going to discuss those here. Rather, I'm going to share with you a list of conclusions that have been drawn by prominent psychologists that relate to happiness as well as the overall human perspective.

    My hope in creating this thread is that other people can help to contribute additional nuggets of information, because ultimately we can all benefit by understanding how our minds work.


    If you have something to share, please state the overall result in a few easy to understand sentences, possible with example, and provide a link that can be traced back to some actual scientific research or credible opinion.

    To reiterate,
    1) Do not simply post links to articles without summarizing the conclusion
    2) Do not post your own opinions/musings/anecdotal evidence

    To kick things off, all of the following psychological facts have been gleaned from the following TED talks by prominent psychologists. I apologize if there's some redundancy here:

    * if you have the option to change a decision, you will be less happy with the outcome.

    * if you are forced to make a non-revokable decision, you will be more happy with the outcome (basically the same as above)

    * if people are asked to make a decision that is difficult, they usually choose the default option instead of making a rational choice.

    * every time you decide you make a decision about what you like, it literally rewires your brain to like that type of thing more in the future (even if you have memory loss).

    * almost everyone cheats, but only a small amount relative to the size of what you did honestly.

    * when a person says they will be honest, they do tend to be more honest as a result

    * when you see people from your group cheating, it increases the amount you will cheat.

    * when you see people from an opposing group cheating, it decreases the amount you will cheat.

    * when you see an option you dont want included for free in something else, it makes you value that thing higher.

    * when you suffer some loss, after about 3 months you are no less happy than if you hadnt lost (loss of loved one, limb, anything).

    * people are less willing to pay for something twice than to pay for something after having already lost the same amount of money.

    * people are more willign to pay for something if it has a lower relative price to its perceived past price (ie, better deal), regardless of the actual value of the item.

    * people prefer to make less money, increasing over time, than to make more
    money decreasing over time.

    * people who can have self control in their desires (as young children) turn out to be more successful people later in life.

    * people are not willing to spend the time to test the thigns they have
    confidence in.

    * people have difficulty choosing between less now, or more later. people tend to be extremely impatient.

    * people over-estimate their own patience, especially if they are continually reminded of what they want.

    * if a person knows they already have to wait for something, they dont mind waiting extra for it as long as the extra amount is small relative to the amount they already expect to wait. however, as they approach the future, their opinion changes and they want it more urgently. ie, now is always better, and more is always better.

    * people overexaggerate the odds based on the specific examples they remember seeing, rather than factual statistics.

    * people tend to over estimate the present, and under estimate the future.

    * the more expensive something is, the more people physically enjoy pleasure from it.

    * People are more satisfied with their choices if there are fewer alternatives.

    * The more alternatives there are, the more likely people are to be paralyzed and make no choice. The more options, the more you blame yourself for making bad choices.

    * The more options there are, the more you expect perfection, and the more your hopes are let down.

    * "The secret to happiness" is having low expectations and exceeding them (ok, I admit this one is just a psychologist's opinion).

    * people remember hits, forget the misses. you can get someone interested by givin them hits early on.

    * neuroscientist Brian Knutson has consistently found that the pictures inside our skulls show that the possibility of a payoff is much more stimulating than actually getting one. as a result, people get addicted to looking things up. note: caused by dopamine.

    References: The following TED talks...
    Dan Gilbert: Exploring the frontiers of happiness
    Dan Gilbert: Why are we happy? Why aren't we happy?
    Dan Gilbert on our mistaken expectations
    Talks Dan Ariely on our buggy moral code
    Talks Dan Ariely asks, Are we in control of our own decisions?
    Barry Schwartz: The paradox of choice

    And this article:
    Seeking: How the brain hard-wires us to love Google, Twitter, and texting. And why that's dangerous.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 22, 2009 #2


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    These aren't facts, they're opinions. And I would say I disagree with just about all of them.

    Can you post scientific research to back up even one of these claims? Just one. I'll give you a GOOBF card if you can show research to prove just one.

    Just because someone says something doesn't mean it has any merit.
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2009
  4. Aug 22, 2009 #3
    Well, they may not be "hard" facts, but they are statistical generalizations that have resulted from controlled psychological experiments on large groups of people.

    The whole point is that they defy our intuitions. I wouldn't have bothered to post the results that are obvious to us all at first...
  5. Aug 22, 2009 #4


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    Sorry, but this falls into the category of "not even wrong".

    Did you copy this from some website? Most of these are just plain nonsense.
  6. Aug 22, 2009 #5
    As I have already explained, these are results I compiled from the presentations of prominent psychologists that were invited to speak at the latest TED conference.

    I understand that these results may seem counter-intuitive to you, and if so, I urge you to watch the presentations for yourself and perhaps it will change your mind.

    These guys are not idiots.
  7. Aug 22, 2009 #6


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    But these quotes are almost all old wive's tales, told and retold. Nothing new. Kind of sad that these came fron TED talks, I like those. My little sister is a psychologist, and she'd priobably rioll her eyes at this stuff too. Our grandmother used to spew some of this stuff. :biggrin:
  8. Aug 22, 2009 #7

    Math Is Hard

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    Dan Gilbert is actually pretty well respected in cognitive and social psychology. I don't know how many of these studies (in the OP's list) were his, but has done some interesting work.

    http://www.danielgilbert.com/ (see the "writing" section)
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2009
  9. Aug 22, 2009 #8
    Evo, how many times do I have to say...these were not offhandedly mentioned old wives tails. For example, this quote:

    "* when you suffer some loss, after about 3 months you are no less happy than if you hadnt lost (loss of loved one, limb, anything)."

    Was concluded based on followup studies of people who won the lottery vs people who had injuries that resulted in amputation...and many other surveys/experiments. It was found that there was no statistical difference between the happiness of these two groups of people. Yes, I know it's mind boggling at first...but think about it....most people are pretty much equally happy throughout their lives. It depends more on their perspective than the events that happen.

    Good and bad things are happening to us everyday. They cause short changes in our happiness but that new toy you bought 5 years ago no longer affects your happiness today. Also the boyfriend who dumped you 20 years ago doesn't affect your happiness today...you probably feel like "it was for the better." This is an evolutionary programmed response we all have. A friend of mine just recovered from a broken leg. He commented that it caused him to reflect upon and value his life in a different way.
  10. Aug 22, 2009 #9

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    The main thing I took away from Dan Gilbert (in Stumbling on Happiness) is that we're pretty bad at predicting how happy we will be in the future based on some situation we imagine. We don't have insight into how emotionally adaptive we actually are. For instance, when people are asked how unhappy they would feel after their spouse died, they report that they'd be devastated and miserable. If you ask them how they would feel 5 years after the event they often say they will still be devastated, still miserable. But in fact, people who have actually gone through losing a spouse are more resilient than that. They pick themselves up and they go on.

    The reverse also appears to be true; the happiness people expect to experience from something like winning the lottery doesn't match up with reality. It reminds me something one of my professors said. He practices clinical psychology and works with grad students. He said that some of the worst moments of crises he sees are not when students are struggling in school, it's after they graduate. They've worked so hard, with such great expectations of how perfect life will be when they get the PhD... and then it isn't.
  11. Aug 22, 2009 #10
    i'm not going to try to condense this into a platitude, and i'm not sure if it quite fits your "happiness" quest. but it does provide some evidence that people often have a certain outlook on life because of their genetics. i actually find this a bit worrisome. it suggests that personality tests may actually be genetic tests. maybe you could show statistical correlations between personality and race. hmmm.

    anyhoo, without further ado, http://www.cnsspectrums.com/aspx/articledetail.aspx?articleid=642"
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  12. Aug 22, 2009 #11


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    What I'm saying is that none of this is new. It's the same old stuff that's been said for ages.

    And a lot of it isn't necessarily true.

    Let's just take this one for example
    What's the default option? What's the rational as opposed to the irrational choice? This makes no sense. The difficult decision is "your foot is crushed and needs to be amputated".

    Decision "your dog has heart worms, we can give him medicine to kill the worms, but the medicine will destroy his liver and he will die".

    Every thing listed is the same.

    You said
    No, I had to make a decision to kill my dog, 40 years ago, I'm still torn up about it.

    I could go through every one of the things you listed and show where it's not true in many, if not most cases.
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2009
  13. Aug 22, 2009 #12
    I thought that the sensation we label 'happiness' was the function of neurochemicals influencing one's nervous system (gross over-simplication). So what we're supposed to be exploring, here, then, isn't the source of 'happiness' per se, but what external influences have an impact on those chemicals and for what time frame. Yes?

    Or did I just violate all of the rules set out by junglebeast?
  14. Aug 22, 2009 #13
    There are 2 survey questions:

    Check this box if you are willing to donate your organ after death.

    Check this box if you are not willing to donate your organs after death.

    About 90% of people skip the question when they come to it, choosing the default option, rather than making the difficult decision they don't want to think about. As a result, all of the countries that use the first wording have organ donor rates of about 10%, vs the other wording have organ donor rates of 90%. This is one of the real examples that was used to derive that "tidbit."
  15. Aug 22, 2009 #14


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    That's ok, I already violated all of his rules.
  16. Aug 22, 2009 #15
    But the rules of this thread say this:

    2) Do not post your own opinions/musings/anecdotal evidence


    Edited to add: We were posting simultaneously. :biggrin:

    One more edit: is this a philosophical subject as set out in the opening premise?
  17. Aug 22, 2009 #16


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    What's the default option? I'm an organ donor, btw. Not checking a box saying you are not willing to donate does not give consent to donate.

    Do you have any of the supposed studies you keep referencing?
  18. Aug 22, 2009 #17
    Since I'm a woman over 50 with a heart of a kid and can still dance up to 4 hours straight if the music is rocking, here's an article I agreed with from Medline Plus.:smile:

    Naturally, I'm all for living my *happy years*! No BODY will steal them from me. :wink:
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  19. Aug 23, 2009 #18
    Again you are putting this into the wrong context, because there is no way to bring something back from the dead. The statement only says that you will be more happy with a decision if you made it under a non-revokable context then if you had made it under a revokable context.

    In other words, 10 days after you purchase a product you will tend to be less happy with it if there is a 30 day return policy than if there was not a return policy. The reason is because when you have an option to revoke your first decision, you constantly question that decision and find flaws in it, whereas if you know you can't take back the decision, you just accept it and become happy with it. This doesn't apply to your dog situation. However, the other one does -- your happiness today is probably no different than your happiness while your dog was still alive, regardless of how much you miss your dog.

    Right, exploring what effect external influences tend to have on influencing the release of dopamine and the like. For example, dopamine is released (making us happy) at the PROSPECT of something we think will make us happy in the future..but when that thing happens, it doesn't actually make us as happy as the original prospect did. And when something good does happen, the resulting happiness is relative to what we expected-- if we had high expectations, then it doesnt do much for us. If we had low expectations, we are pleasantly surprised.

    Yes, I gave references...you can check out the publications of those gentlemen or watch the presentations to hear a verbal explanation of their results.
  20. Aug 23, 2009 #19
    But your rules say this:

    and provide a link that can be traced back to some actual scientific research or credible opinion.
  21. Aug 23, 2009 #20
    Hi Georgina, right...I'm sorry but I'm not sure what your point is? How much more credible can you get than having a PhD in psychology and publishing results that are influential enough to be invited to speak about them at TED? They discuss experiments verbally, and you have their names so you can look up actual pubs if you want..I never said that a publication needed to be directly linked..
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