Do you know the saying: “You are the sum total of your experiences?. You could say that someone with an abundance of negative experiences will have a lot of scars, and they will probably agree if you ask them. However, research has shown that people with, for example, paraplegia aren’t substantially less happy than people that can walk. Just like lottery winners aren’t always happier than people that didn’t win, and that’s interesting.
The question of what makes one happy is something I’ve answered in some previous blogs (here & here). What’s special in this blog, is that researchers found it difficult to link specific factors to happiness. Income is only slightly related, physical attractiveness doesn’t contribute much to well-being and even good health has little relation to happiness. What they did find, is that people generally have some sort of happiness baseline. And this even seems to be slightly positive! Of course this is dependent on objective circumstances: for example someone who’s human rights are being suppressed will experience happiness in different ways than someone with more freedom in the same country.
Research on impactful life events supports the idea of a happiness baseline. It seems that changes in well-being recover over time. So, life events like a loss of a loved one, a divorce or loss of a job cause a dip in your affective or cognitive well-being, but in the long term they actually have a slightly positive effect. Within a year, the dip has already returned to a neutral point. Positive life events such as marriage and childbirth also have an influence. Inconsistently, they have a negative effect on your baseline. The explanation for the first is also called the honeymoon effect; before the wedding, the level of happiness is so high that it can only go down from there. The influence of children can be explained on the basis of multiple domains. Even though the satisfaction about the relationship decreases because you’re spending more time on your child, your global happiness increases because you have a child.
What can we learn from this?
Whatever we will experience, we will always be able to recover to our happiness baseline. All the bad things you experience, can eventually have a positive effect on your life. The negative emotions you experience, the problems and challenges you face, the losses you suffer; eventually they will benefit you! You learn and develop yourself after each experience. Emotions can hurt, but there’s also something valuable in it; by feeling, you discover what you find important in life. If something hits you hard, it holds a certain value to you!
Think about the obstacles you’ve conquered in your life and what they have taught you. In what ways did they eventually benefit you? Did the loss of a loved one strengthen the bond with your other loved ones? Has a divorce triggered your personal growth? In what areas did you become happier? You can use the NiceDay app to write it down!