Tuesday, March 06, 2007

"If we hope, we cope. If we don't we mope."

According to some new research (discussed here), "happier" people live longer. Test subjects were roughly one third less likely to develop a cold when exposed to the virus. They were classifying happiness in the long term, but it is probably true for short term happiness as well. In my experience, people who are stuck in short term unhappiness definitely seem more susceptible to illness. Keep an eye out for this in your own life, I'll bet you might start seeing a correlation.

This related article says that there is somewhat of a genetic component to being happy. I'm less enthused about news like this. The article doesn't really say anything else useful, but I always get a little nervous when research like this is published. It gives people an excuse for their condition. For example, because alcoholism has a genetic component, people can use it as an excuse for their own problems with alcohol.

Let's hope this doesn't help people to justify their own unhappiness.

Happiness is a tricky thing to measure and explain. People spend a lot of time and effort looking for it, and asking a lot of "why" questions. Sometimes, it may seem as though happiness is some sort of tangible object, and the goal is to find it.

In reality, happiness is about being honest with yourself, and using that to guide your life to a place where can be happy. "Guide" of course, is just a less scary word for "change".

1 comment:

Matt said...

Ryan,

It seems to me that the genetic influence on "happiness" is sort of a red herring: our genetic "program" predisposes us to have certain *mood* levels (and this is confirmed by twin studies, where identical twins separated at birth are found to have highly correlated levels of "happiness"). And perhaps genetic influence predisposes us to "feel" in a particular way (say, to enjoy pleasures and have a higher threshold for pain).

This all affects *hedonic* happiness - happiness as pleasure. But I have a hard time accepting that happiness is *just* your MOOD (how chipper you are on average), or that happiness is REDUCIBLE to other kinds of feelings. (See my recent post of some Notes from a Presentation I gave: "Happiness: Is it all in your head?")

In trotting out my "pet theory" I don't mean to deny that mood & feeling are important. But that said, I'm with you on not being sure how exactly these genetic findings figure in to the pursuit of happiness.

In part, it's the fault of the reporters, going in for a "sensational" headline. Most of the psychologists who where hardcore "happiness determinists" gave up that line (since these things are only PARTLY heritable). What Deiner SAYS in the link you give pretty much shows that.