Hélène Tragos Stelian talks about happiness and the current stage of her life over at Next Act For Women. If you’re interested in a free life coach consultation with her you can find out more on her site or email her directly at [email protected].
How Much Happier Would We Be?
My husband Peter and I love the sun and the ocean. We’ve made it a tradition to take a beach vacation nearly every year since we met in 1993. After we got married, we wondered if more happiness existed in a warmer place. So, we explored moving away from Chicago. Certainly the weather was a key driver of our potential destinations. After we visited both the San Francisco and San Diego areas, factors like work, friends, and familiarity kept us in Chicago.
And while we love it here, Peter and I occasionally wonder how much happier we’d be in a warmer place. I mean, aren’t people who live in beautiful sunny places happier?
Happier in a Warmer Place?
Research conducted by professors David Schkade and Daniel Kahneman, who specialize in the psychology of judgment and decision-making, has found that we Midwesterners are much less satisfied with our weather than our West coast friends and that we do believe Californians are happier (and they believe it too!). This, of course, is no surprise.
However, as it turns out, self-reported happiness levels are actually the same among respondents in both geographies. Schkade and Kahneman explain this as a “focusing illusion,” whereby we attribute exaggerated weight to one highlighted factor when we judge an entire situation. So when we imagine sun-drenched palm trees, we assume this must have a positive impact on life satisfaction.
What Is Hedonic Adaptation?
The truth is a change to our external situation, like where we live, is not the key to happiness. Studies have shown that when it comes to our life circumstances, we have an uncanny ability to adjust to positive events. When we get a promotion or pay raise, buy a fancy car or finally lose that excess weight, marry our soul mate or move to sunnier climes, yes, we do feel a short-term boost in well-being—but we eventually settle right back into our former, natural state of happiness, our life satisfaction set point if you will. Our situation simply becomes our “new normal.” This is a well-researched phenomenon psychologists call “hedonic adaptation.”
So we ask ourselves, is there something we can do to stop not take our good fortune for granted? How can we prolong the joy we feel from positive events?
Advice from a Happiness Expert
One method, researched by psychology professor and happiness expert Sonja Lyubomorsky, is to foster our appreciation. In Lyubomorsky’s book, The How of Happiness, (affiliate link) she recommends we slow down hedonic adaptation by learning to “savor” life’s pleasures. Also, we should make this a daily practice.
So every time you get into your new car, luxuriate in the leather seats. Every time you stop for a Starbucks latte, relish the richness. When you catch yourself taking your partner’s small kindness for granted, notice and let him know it.
For my part, when I’m on Lake Shore drive I marvel at the beauty of the Chicago skyline against the dramatic expanse of Lake Michigan. A gorgeous sight.
And while Peter and I may escape our winters for the Caribbean on a regular basis, I truly do believe we will grow old right here, in this wonderful city.
What joys have you let become YOUR new normal? What could YOU do to appreciate life’s pleasures on a daily basis?