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Tuesday, January 2, 2007
New Year's resolution: more happiness for all
At Edge.org, the influential online online forum of philosophy and tech culture that is closely watched by various geeks, has published its question of the year, which is, charmingly, "What are you optimistic about? Why?"
One hundred and sixty contributors, all prominent in their fields, have weighed in and all their answers, some quite long, are online at the page linked above. One struck me right away: Nancy Etcoff, a psychologist and a member of the faculty at Harvard Medical School, foresees the possibility that we can all raise one's normal state of happiness:
happiness levels are durable, withstanding sweeping changes in health and wealth. Life changes, [my research] suggests, but you don't. It showed that there is a substantial genetic component to happiness. People have a personal baseline of happiness that is influenced by stable personality traits.
So far so bad, but it turns out that after people get married, some are significantly less happy on the average day than before (that's the adaptability in action); others are less happy; and an equal number are more so. Not a surprise in theory, but Etcoff notices "the fact that one can" raise the baseline through a durable arrangement like marriage suggests that becoming more happy than one's genetic norm is possible, so why can't we make it happen other ways?