Happiness Is Habit-Forming—The More You Have, the More You Need


The Washington Post reports in its Science section that Americans on average need two happy events to make up for one negative event. On the other hand, after one negative event Japanese people need only one happy event  to restore their emotional equilibrium. Why the disparity?  According to the Post:

Americans report being generally happier than people from, say, Japan or Korea, but it turns out that, partly as a result, they are less likely to feel good when positive things happen and more likely to feel bad when negative things befall them.

Put another way, a hidden price of being happier on average is that you put your short-term contentment at risk, because being happy raises your expectations about being happy. When good things happen, they don't count for much because they are what you expect. When bad things happen, you temporarily feel terrible, because you've gotten used to being happy…

…according to the new study, led by University of Virginia psychologist Shigehiro Oishi, people who report a large ratio of positive to negative events also seem to derive diminishing returns from additional happy events—and ever larger adverse effects when they encounter negative events.

By contrast, Oishi found that even though Japanese people were less happy overall than Americans, they needed only one positive event to regain their equilibrium after experiencing a negative event. European Americans needed two positive events on average to regain their emotional footing.

Oishi's research also provides an intriguing window into why very few people are very happy most of the time. Getting to "very happy" is like climbing an ever steeper mountain. Additional effort—positive events—doesn't gain you much by way of altitude. Slipping backward, on the other hand, is very easy.

Whole Post article here.

By the way, I, like most Americans, am pretty happy with my life. 

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  1. I can confirm this. I find that I have to read two sensible political reports after reading one goofy report about Ron Paul to have any sense that rationality can prevail in political life. Fascinating.

  2. Well great…after that article I need two happy events!

    Shit, thanks reason!

  3. Still better!

    Now after Edwards pro-state nitwittery I need two more!

  4. So happiness has a ramp effect? Just like heroin? Hmm.

    I’d insert some half-baked bs about the neurotransmitters involved being responsible, but I’m still on my first cup of coffee. I can’t make it sound remotely plausible yet.

    Of course, all this goes to show Ron is a shill for Big Happy.

  5. Fuck this place. I’m outta here for real this time.

  6. This is a ridiculous study. There is no “happy” and “not happy” in the complex range of emotions. And what is “very happy”? Is my “very happy” different than somebody else’s “very happy”? Human emotion is more complex than a yes or no question. Plus, humans can have opposite emotions at the same time–I can be happy because I got a promotion, but at the same time “not happy” because I’m stuck in traffic. So to figure out my happiness do they take the net of my happy minus my not happy? Stupid.

  7. I’ll trade you two happy cards for a melancholy, so long as you promise a jubilant card on your next turn.


  8. Fuck this place. I’m outta here for real this time.

    Okay, one down! Three more to go!

  9. Is my “very happy” different than somebody else’s “very happy”?

    Case in point: Larry Craig (R-ID)

  10. The Epicureans figured this out millennia ago. Their solution was to abstain from pleasures so they wouldn’t take joy for granted.

  11. Whaddya talkin’ about? My wine glass is always half empty.

  12. Fuck this place. I’m outta here for real this time.


  13. Edward always threatens to leave and never does. He’s a lying douchebag.

  14. By the way, I, like most Americans, am pretty happy with my life.

    That’s just because you’re an environmental collapse denier!!! 🙂

  15. Psychologist finally discovers diminishing marginal utility, economists remain unimpressed.

  16. Timothy –
    The difference is that people will sooner believe results of a study released based on subjective data submitted by participants and presented by a psychologist than they will anything an economist has to say. Afterall, don’t economists, like, study the stock market and stuff?

  17. Fuck you SugarFree, this is my last post here.

  18. I always claim to be happy but Mrs TWC says I’m deluded.

  19. If it makes you happy then why the hell are you so sad?

  20. Related?

    “Most people get tired of the ice cream, but some of them get kind of addicted to the ice cream, and people do not know in advance which category they will belong to.”

  21. The Wine Commonsewer:

    Allow me a better interpretation of the half full/half empty glass question. It makes no difference which way you decide, the real answer is it’s time for a refill!


  22. Shilling for Big Happy?

  23. VM –
    oh, um.
    English: People pretend to care about what economists have to say, but then when you explain something like “diminishing marginal returns” you get something of a hybrid of a blank stare and a resounding “nuh uh!”

  24. or in this case, diminishing marginal utility, as stated by Timothy

  25. Edward,

    Your sweet promises fall on deaf ears, for you have broken them so oft before.

  26. Oh!

    yeah – I know that blank stare quite well! That’s a good call.

    (I didn’t get the ‘stock market’ comment – pet peeve reason – I get tired of answering, “no I have no idea what the market is going to do” when people hear that I do econ. analysis (“an economist”) for a living.)

  27. It makes no difference which way you decide, the real answer is it’s time for a refill!

    Hear! Hear! (or is it here! here!)

    That, ladies and gents, is a thread winner.

  28. Just proves the old adage: an optimist is never pleasantly surprised.

  29. All I know is that “happy event” would be a great euphemism for ejaculation.

  30. Oddly, whenever I read a “Fuck you, I’m outta here” post from Edward, I feel happy; but I only have to read one more to feel sad again.

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