What Makes Us Happy

Cultivating happiness is quite often misunderstood, says Stanford researcher.
Stanford research recently explored the concept of maximizing happiness, and found that pursuing concrete goals of “giving” rather than abstract goals will lead to greater satisfaction.

BY CLIFTON B. PARKER

Givers are likely to experience greater happiness and fulfillment if they pursue acts of benevolence in concrete rather than abstract terms, according to a new Stanford study.

The paradox of happiness is that chasing it may actually make us less happy, says a Stanford researcher.

How does one find happiness? Effective ways do exist, according to new research.

An example of a path to happiness is through concrete, specific goals of benevolence – like making someone smile or increasing recycling compared to following similar but more abstract goals – like making someone happy or saving the environment.

This study shows that when you pursue concretely framed goals, your expectations of success are more likely to be achieved in reality. On the other hand, broad and abstract goals may not meet with desired results – unrealistic expectations.

Those are the conclusions of a study recently published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology by Jennifer Aaker, a social psychologist and the General Atlantic Professor of Marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Co-authors are Melanie Rudd, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Houston, and Michael Norton, an associate professor of business at Harvard University. Rudd, who studied under Aaker at Stanford as a doctoral student, was the lead author on the study.

As the researchers point out, the pursuit of happiness is one of the most essential focuses in life, and happiness is often considered a the apex of psychological health. It is more mysterious and complex than most people might imagine – and not always achievable.

Aaker said, “Although the desire for personal happiness may be clear, the path to achieving it is indefinite. One reason for this hazy route to happiness is that although people often think they know what leads to happiness, their predictions about what will make them happy are often inaccurate.”

One under appreciated way to increase one’s own happiness is to focus on elevating the happiness of others. But, how exactly do you do that? Are some acts of benevolence better able to increase personal happiness than others?

To answer this question, the researchers conducted six experiments involving 543 people from laboratory studies and national survey pools. The level of abstraction of one’s “prosocial” goal was the critical factor of interest. Pro-social acts are defined as voluntary behavior intended to benefit someone else.

 

Source: http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/april/giving-and-happiness-041414.html

 

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