Friday, May 02, 2008

Happiness is...

...having what you want, wanting what you have, or both? In Rabbi Hyman Schachtel's 1954 book on "The real enjoyment of living" he proposed that "happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have." To test this idea Larsen and McKibban subject psychology undergraduates at Texas Tech Univ. in Lubbock, TX. to experiments in which they generate lists of "items that you have in your life, as well as items that you want." Both variables accounted for unique variance in happiness. (The students also completed several different standard subjective happiness questionaires.)

As suggested by Schachtel's maxim, participants who wanted what they had more than others did tended to be happier, r = .36, prep > .99 (see Figure, left panel). In addition, however, those who had more of what they wanted tended to be happier, r = .41, prep > .99 (Figure, right panel), as did those who simply had more things, r = .25, prep = .97. In contrast, the extent to which people simply wanted things was uncorrelated with happiness, r = .11.3

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