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Day 05/06/2014

Find Out Which Of Your Life’s External Circumstances Have A Strong Effect on Your Happiness & Life Satisfaction …*

Find Out Which Of Your Life's External Circumstances Have A Strong Effect on Your Happiness & Life Satisfaction ...* | rethinked.org

On Tuesday, I shared the happiness equation that Seligman puts forth in Authentic Happiness:

H = S + C + V

Where H is your enduring level of happiness, S is your set range, C is the circumstances of your life, and V represents factors under your voluntary control. (45)

We looked at the (largely genetic) factors that affect your set range, now let’s take a look at the C variable—the external circumstances of your life that affect happiness.

MONEYMoney Has Little or no Effect Once You Are Comfortable Enough & More Materialistic People Are Less Happy

Would more money make you happier? The data says yes, at both an individual and collective level, but only up to a certain point:

Overall national purchasing power and average life satisfaction go strongly in the same direction. Once the gross national product exceed $8,000 per person, however, the correlation disappears, and added wealth brings no further life satisfaction. (53) 

In very poor nations, where poverty threatens life itself, being rich does predict greater well-being. In wealthier nations, however, where almost everyone has a basic safety net, increases in wealth have negligible effects on personal happiness. In the United States, the very poor are lower in happiness, but once a person is just barely comfortable, added money adds little or no happiness. Even the fabulously rich—the Forbes 100, with an average net worth of over 125 million dollars—are only slightly happier than the average American. (53)

In the same way that how you think about stress is more important than how much stress you experience in influencing your health, Seligman notes that, “how important money is to you, more than money itself, influences your happiness.” (55)

Materialism seems to be counterproductive: at all levels of real income, people who value money more than other goals are less satisfied with their income and with their lives as a whole, although precisely why is a mystery. (55)

MARRIAGE – A Robust Effect on Happiness & Life Satisfaction, But Perhaps Not Causal

Unlike money, which has at most a small effect, marriage is robustly related to happiness. (55) Happily married people report much greater levels of happiness than non-married people. However, people in unhappy marriages report lower levels of happiness than non-married people. The relationship between marriage and happiness remains unclear—is it that happy people are more likely to get married than depressed people who tend to be more withdrawn or the other way around, the verdict is still out.

The National Opinion Research Center surveyed 35,000 Americans over the last thirty years; 40 percent of married people said they were “very happy,” while only 24 percent of unmarried, divorced and widowed people said this. Living with a significant other (but not being married) is associated with more happiness in individualistic cultures like ours, but with less happiness in collectivist cultures like Japan and China. The happiness advantage for the married holds controlling for age and income, and it is equally true for both men and women. (55)

SOCIAL LIFE –  A Robust Effect, But Perhaps Not Causal

Very happy people differ markedly from both average and unhappy people in that they all lead a rich and fulfilling social life. The very happy people spend the least time alone and the most time socializing, and they are rated highest on good relationships by themselves and also by their friends. (56) 

NEGATIVE EMOTION – Only a Moderate Effect on Happiness & Life Satisfaction

Contrary to popular belief, having more than your share of misery does not mean you cannot have a lot of joy as well. (56)


Life satisfaction goes up slightly with age, pleasant affect declines slightly, and negative affect does not change. What does change as we age is the intensity of our emotions. Both “feeling on top of the world” and being “in the depths of despair” become less common with age and experience. (58)

HEALTH – Subjective Health, Not Objective Health Matters

Objective good health is barely related to happiness; what matters is our subjective perception of how healthy we are, and it is a tribute to our ability to adapt to adversity that we are able to find ways to appraise our health positively even when we are quite sick. (58)

Moderate ill health does not bring unhappiness in its wake, but severe illness does: When disabling illness is severe and long-lasting, happiness and life satisfaction do decline, although not nearly as much as you might expect. Individuals admitted to a hospital with only one chronic health problem (such as heart disease) show marked increases in happiness over the next year, but the happiness of individuals with five of more health problems deteriorates over time. (58)

EDUCATION, CLIMATE, RACE & GENDER – No Effect on Happiness & Life Satisfaction

Turns out that none of these variables have much of an effect on happiness and life satisfaction.

Education – Even though education is a means to higher income, it is not a means to higher happiness, except only slightly and only among those people with low income. Nor does intelligence influence happiness in either direction. (59)

Climate – While sunny climes do combat seasonal affective disorder (winter depression), happiness levels do not vary with climate. People suffering through a Nebraska winter believe people in California are happier, but they are wrong; we adapt to good weather completely and very quickly. (59)

Race – At least in the United States, is not related to happiness in any consistent way. In spite of worse economic numbers, African-Americans and Hispanics have markedly lower rates of depression than Caucasians, but their level of reported happiness is no higher than Caucasians (except perhaps among older men). (59)

Gender – Gender has a fascinating relation to mood. In average emotional tone, women and men don’t differ, but this strangely is because women are both happier and sadder than men. (59)

RELIGION – A Moderate Effect on Happiness & Life Satisfaction

Survey data consistently show religious people as being somewhat happier and more satisfied with life than nonreligious people. (59)

Religious Americans are clearly less likely to abuse drugs, commit crimes, divorce, and kill themselves. They are also physically healthier and live longer. Religious mothers of children with disabilities fight depression better, and religious people are less thrown by divorce, unemployment, illness, and death. (59)


Are you surprised by any of these results? Which areas of your life bring you the most happiness?

This concludes our review of the external factors that influence happiness and life satisfaction, next week we turn to the good stuff—the internal variables of happiness, over which you have a much greater degree of control.

Source: Seligman, Martin. Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology To Realize Your Potential For Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press, 2002. Print.

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