Towards a Multi-Disciplinary Approach
Edited by Amitava Krishna Dutt and Benjamin Radcliff
Chapter 15: Change your Actions, Not Your Circumstances: An Experimental Test of the Sustainable Happiness Model
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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