Happiness Is Overrated
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I discovered that the effect of education on happiness is a somewhat under-researched question, but several studies done in developed countries have shown this negative relationship. For example, a Australian study 2 summed up the previous research this way:. It is surprising to discover, then, that more educated people should be no happier or even less happy than people with lower levels of education.
Instances of such a negative correlation between educational attainment and subjective wellbeing have been observed in a number of developed countries, including Australia.
Mindfulness in schools, at work & everywhere
Dockery , p. It is unclear what causes this negative relationship, but the results of the Australian study contradict the hypothesis that people who pursue college are simply less happy in general. One theory suggests that planning for and attending college sets up a number of expectations about life after graduation and that, when those expectations are not met, people become discontent.
Given the amount of effort and money that goes into getting a college education, it is easy to see how expectations might be elevated and then dashed. Like many scientific questions, this one is far from settled. But the Australian study, the UK study of middle-age women, and several previous investigations have shown this negative relationship.
Is Happiness Overrated?
So if this is a genuine phenomenon, what should we do about it? Should we discourage people from going to college because they might be happier if they simply got a job? I think not. There are many other benefits to higher education, both for the individual and for society. If education makes you a tad grouchier, then so be it. The bliss of ignorance is not worth the ignorance.
Happiness may not save your life and you may have to give up some of it to get an education. Ehrenreich was also very critical of Martin E.
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Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, and his book Authentic Happiness , which touted many health benefits of cheerfulness. At very least, it is safe to say the relationship of happiness to longevity has not been definitively established. I will end by offering a few words of support for emotions other than happiness, joy, and optimism. Let us remember that much of the most beautiful music ever written is sad—sometimes desperately so—and yet we love listening to it. It ends like this:.
Good News for Grouches: Happiness is Overrated
Should melancholy descend, you may as well welcome it, wear your finest lounging outfit; give it your finest fainting couch or chaise to lounge in, or that hammock stretched between two elm trees. Happiness — or more specifically, satisfaction — is something we mostly feel retrospectively, as a payoff on our investment. And then, before very long, we move on to the next challenge.
Pain necessarily comes with the territory. Think about strength training. You push your biceps or your triceps past your comfort zone, to the point of exhaustion.
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- Why Happiness is Overrated!
In Good to Great , Jim Collins finds a perfect example in James Stockdale , the highest-ranking naval officer held as a prisoner of war during Vietnam. Over seven years, Stockdale was tortured repeatedly, held in solitary confinement and given no reason to believe he would ever make it out alive. There are many circumstances in our lives for which it makes no sense to be happy.
Many people focus on pleasure because it is readily available. Happiness takes more work because it requires real achievement or the development of healthy relationships. Meaning requires the even more difficult task of going beyond our self-interest and seeing a greater good.
Purpose can be the ultimate life driver, but it requires a deep belief and commitment to actualize it. The upshot of this is that we should be aware of the benefits of the higher realms of meaning and purpose and focus our efforts on flourishing in all the realms, not just pleasure and happiness.