Science of happiness: The 40% Solution from Mindful.org

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So what is this science of happiness, anyhow?

To me, one of the most interesting findings is the now well-documented fact that we humans are notoriously lousy at predicting what will—and will not—make us happy. “People think things that are unpleasant are going to be crushing for a much longer time than they are,” Simon-Thomas tells me a few days before the workshop, which she is co-leading.

“They also think that pleasures, such as a new material possession or an incredibly empowering achievement, are going to lead to long-term boosts to their well-being.

But what the studies show is that we get over and habituate to the things that are frightening or harmful or sad, and at the same time, we habituate to wonderful things.”

In other words, our lowest lows and highest highs don’t last.

“Pleasure is really important, but you can’t put it at the top of the list of aspirations.”

Not only that, it turns out that the more zealously we pursue our notion of ideal happiness or hold ourselves to impossibly high standards, the more likely our efforts will backfire.

“Not having exceedingly high expectations is a key to actually obtaining some measure of happiness,” says Iris Mauss, an associate professor of psychology at UC Berkeley who studies the paradoxical effects of pursuing positive emotion.

When I consider my own life, this seems ridiculously, painfully obvious.

How often was I convinced to my core that the next boyfriend, the move to a different city, the great magazine assignment or Off-Broadway production of one of my plays would finally, once and for all, make me permanently happy?

Hell, even the next hot fudge sundae had the potential to turn my life-is-scary-and-then-you-die personality into something cheery and light, at least temporarily.

I may not have counted on winning the lottery, but my belief in future salvation turns out to have been just as fantastical.

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