If only I weighed 120 pounds, I’d be happy.If only I made more money, I’d be happy.If only he loved me, I’d be happy.If only I’d gotten that promotion, I’d be happy.
Are any of these assertions true? Researchers say "no."
Psychologist Jordi Quoidbach of University of Liege (Belgium) and co-author Elizabeth Dunn from the University of British Columbia looked at the accuracy of people’s predictions about their own future happiness and found that people who tend to be grumpy, distrusting, or pessimistic are terrible at such predictions.
The team proposed that how happy people will feel about a future event depended a lot more on personality than the nature of the event.
To test this, the team asked a large group of Belgian supporters of President Obama in October 2008 how happy they would feel if Obama won the election. The participants, for the most part, predicted that they would feel very happy if their preferred candidate won.
After the election, the participants were asked how happy they actually felt, and a large part of the group didn’t feel very happy at all. The participants completed a personality test, and it turned out that the subjects who had a tendency to be grumpy or negative in other ways wrongly predicted that the positive event would make them happy.
Those with a more positive mindset who had predicted that Obama’s election would make them happy actually were happy after the election.
The researchers concluded that whether a positive event will make us happy depends more on our natural inclinations to be negative or positive than on any perceived positive outcomes.
This is an interesting finding. It suggests that waiting for positive events to take place is a waste of time. If you are not already happy, these events won’t make you any happier. Even enormously positive events cannot really change the moods of grumpy people, or people who are negative in other ways.
To experience real happiness, you need to change your mindset. Here are four suggestions to get you started:
- Stop thinking "if only...then I'd be happy." Just face it: You won't be. A big bump up in salary, losing 20 pounds, finding "true" love—if you're already grumpy, it won't make much difference.
- It's your thoughts that prevent you from being happy. And dwelling on them can solidify them. So while it can feel good to share your thoughts with others, don't go around telling everyone, say, that your boss hates you, because you might end up truly believing it.
- Ask yourself what is preventing you from being happy. Is it that you don't believe you will find a partner? Your belief that your co-workers hate you? Your belief that you are too fat, unattractive, short, or stupid.? Then change your beliefs. In Loving What Is, Byron Katie recommends asking four questions about each of your negative beliefs: Is it true? Can you absolutely know that it’s true? How do you react when you think that thought? and, Who would you be without the thought? Then, start thinking the opposite: For example, I am not too fat, etc.
- Laugh about your problems. Yes, laughter relaxes the body, decreases your level of stress hormones, enhances the immune system, and—as a bonus—releases the body's own painkillers, endorphins, which helps to improve your sense of well-being.