Table of Contents

Happiness, Economics and Politics

Happiness, Economics and Politics

Towards a Multi-Disciplinary Approach

Edited by Amitava Krishna Dutt and Benjamin Radcliff

This timely and important book presents a unique study of happiness from both economic and political perspectives. It offers an overview of contemporary research on the emergent field of happiness studies and contains contributions by some of the leading figures in the field.

Chapter 15: Change your Actions, Not Your Circumstances: An Experimental Test of the Sustainable Happiness Model

Kennon M. Sheldon and Sonja Lyubomirsky

Subjects: economics and finance, economic psychology, history of economic thought


Kennon M. Sheldon and Sonja Lyubomirsky Is it possible to become a happier person? This is an enormously important issue for subjective well-being (SWB) researchers, as well as for the burgeoning field of positive psychology (Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, 2000; Sheldon, 2004). Indeed, if happiness cannot be lastingly increased, then one of the basic premises of positive psychology is suspect – namely, that positive psychology is about more than curing disorders or ‘bringing people back to 0’, but is instead about helping to move people ‘beyond 0’, to new heights of fulfillment and satisfaction (Seligman, 2002). The question of whether SWB can be sustainably improved naturally arises from the growing consensus that SWB is strongly influenced by genetics, with a heritability of around 0.50 according to twin studies (Diener et al., 1999). The behavioral genetics research implies that there may be a genetically determined ‘set-point’ for SWB, to which people are bound to return over time (Lykken and Tellegen, 1996; Tellegen et al., 1988). In other words, SWB may be the result of a homeostatic process that resists deviations away from a pre-determined baseline (Cummins, 2003). If this is true, then trying to become happier may be as fruitless as ‘trying to become taller’ (Lykken and Tellegen, 1996, p. 189). A further implication is that developing the strengths (Peterson and Seligman, 2004) and engaging in the practices (Emmons, 2007) emphasized by positive psychology researchers can have no lasting effect on peoples’ state of mind. Of course, such strengths and practices may provide...

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