Born Happy?

Having read Clive Hamilton’s Growth Fetish recently, I have become alert to this type of article. In today’s Fin Review (password required), Julie Macken reports on The hunt for happiness.

She quotes Tim Kasser, associate professor of psychology, who has just authored a book entitled The High Price of Materialism (2003, MIT Press). “There are short-term benefits to success,” says Kasser, “but most of the research shows that they are not long-lived, nor do they have much impact on wellbeing or happiness. For example, the research shows that increases in salary do little to improve wellbeing over the long term, except if you’re moving from poverty to enough (about $US35,000 annually).”

The article then goes on to suggest that some of us may never be happy. According to Gordon Parker, head of Prince of Wales Hospital’s Black Dog Institute in Sydney, “Most research suggests our level of happiness is determined by our personality and that it’s quite fixed in that sense … That means that while a great event will make most of us happy for a while, we always go back to a base line. The exception to that would be the death of a child — that changes people in a way almost nothing else does.”

Parker also believes there are essentially two kinds of personalities: extroverted and neurotic, “Happy people tend to be more extroverted,” he says, “They’re friendlier and tend to build networks with people, which is also why they can be more successful. But they also know how to relax.” Thus, relaxing, staring at the clouds, chatting with the receptionist, smiling at people in the lifts — this style of living lends itself to happiness. On the other side of the coin, “workaholics can have a great deal of material success, but they experience a loss of happiness because they don’t know how to relax between the minutes. They live with far more tension.”