Though activities can increase our happiness, this doesn't mean we'll always pick the right activities for happiness. Surely we've all had moments when we thought that something--an experience, a privilege, a possession--would make us happier, only to be disappointed.
In addition to learning more about sources of happiness, researchers have shed light upon what doesn't make us happy. This can save us from wasting time and energy pursuing happiness down the wrong paths. So what are some of these obstacles to happiness?
In the video below, Emiliana will explain some of the psychological tendencies that make it harder for us to be happy, then watch Harvard psychology professor and happiness expert Dan Gilbert describe affective forecasting.
These terms are important to understanding some of the obstacles to happiness identified by researchers. Sonja Lyubomirsky and Emiliana have alluded to many of them in earlier videos. You can also hear Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology at Harvard University and author of the best-selling book Stumbling on Happiness, discuss several of these terms in this video on Big Think.
Affective forecasting: The process of making predictions about how you will feel in the future. According to Daniel Gilbert, who coined the term "affective forecasting" with his colleague Timothy Wilson, affective forecasting is simply "the process by which people look into their future and make predictions about what they’ll like and what they won’t like."
However, as Emiliana explained in the previous video, we are often poor judges in the present of what will bring us happiness in the future, causing us to look for happiness in the wrong places.
Impact bias: The tendency to overestimate how an event or experience in the future will affect our emotional well-being, for better or worse. For instance, we often underestimate our ability to recover from difficult experiences, an ability that Gilbert calls our "psychological immune system." He documented this bias in astudy that found people generally overestimate how various defeats or rejections--such as a romantic breakup or being turned down for a job--will impact their happiness.
Impact bias is a major cause of mistakes in affective forecasting. It can lead us to avoid certain decisions or activities out of an inflated fear that they will harm our happiness or to covet certain outcomes (such as winning the lottery) that don't actually boost our happiness as much as we think they will.
Set point theory: The theory that we each have a relatively stable level of happiness that is largely determined by our genes and personality. Though we might experience some fluctuations in happiness due to events big and small, this theory holds that we eventually return to our basic set point of happiness.
Hedonic adaptation (aka the "hedonic treadmill"): Our ability to adapt to changes in our life circumstances or sensory experiences. Research suggests many of us have a remarkable ability to get used to things that might initially bring us pleasure, such as getting married or winning the lottery, and even to eventually return to our happiness set point after a traumatic accident.
Some researchers, such as Ed Diener at the University of Illinois, however, have argued that the truth about hedonic adaptation and set points is more nuanced: Some people might be more prone than others to adapt to events, and a person's set point may not be stable over time. Throughout this class, we will explore research--and research-based methods--that suggest how we might counteract our tendency for hedonic adaptation and develop more lasting happiness.
Prioritizing positivity: Deliberately organizing your day-to-day life so that it contains situations that naturally give rise to positive emotional experiences. Laura Catalino, Sara Algoe and Barbara Fredrickson'sstudy compares pursuing happiness to prioritizing positivity, and their results suggest that prioritizing positivity is a more promising approach to boosting happiness.