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Abstract

"By now, it has become a bromide that the U.S. constitution and culture are built on the pursuit of happiness (Myers, 1992). According to this political philosophy, government should allow citizens to strive towards their own conception of happiness, and should assist them as much as possible to reach this goal. In return, citizens ought to make the most of the opportunity, ultimately contributing to the common good of all. The enduring appeal of this American ideal rests on the very plausible assumption that happiness is the fundamental objective of all human effort and activity, in all cultures, whether people are aware of it or not. By taking action, humans aim towards more positive conditions and feelings than they currently experience, or towards more positive future feelings than what they might otherwise experience if they failed to act (Carver & Scheier, 1998). Accordingly, becoming happier is not only a hugely popular topic on the self-help shelves, it is increasingly becoming a stated policy goal of world governments, with the gross national happiness of the country (rather than its gross domestic product) as the primary quantity to be maximized "
Variety is the Spice of Happiness: The Hedonic Adaptation Prevention Model
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Abstract and Keywords
This chapter reviews the experimental evidence supporting the importance of variety in
sustaining happiness, discussing the facts and findings on what hinders sustainable
happiness, namely genetic predisposition, dynamic equilibrium, and the hedonic
treadmill. The chapter also presents two conceptual models of sustained happiness
increases at the individual level, specifically, the “sustainable happiness” model and the
“hedonic adaptation prevention” model. Finally, the chapter presents evidence for
sustainable happiness, exploring how variations in circumstances and activities can
potentially bolster individuals to experience the upper end of their happiness “set range.”
Keywords: happiness, variety, positive psychology interventions, hedonic adaptation prevention model
BY now, it has become a bromide that the US constitution and culture are built on the
pursuit of happiness (Myers, 1992). According to this political philosophy, government
should allow citizens to strive towards their own conception of happiness, and should
assist them as much as possible to reach this goal. In return, citizens ought to make the
most of the opportunity, ultimately contributing to the common good of all. The enduring
appeal of this American ideal rests on the very plausible assumption that happiness is the
fundamental objective of all human effort and activity, in all cultures, whether people are
aware of it or not. By taking action, humans aim towards more positive conditions and
feelings than they currently experience, or towards more positive future feelings than
they might otherwise experience if they failed to act (Carver & Scheier, 1998).
Accordingly, becoming happier is not only a hugely popular topic on the self-help shelves,
it is increasingly becoming a stated policy goal of world governments, with the gross
national happiness of the country (rather than its gross domestic product) as the primary
quantity to be maximized (Stiglitz, Sen, & Fitoussi, 2009).
Variety is the Spice of Happiness: The Hedonic
Adaptation Prevention Model
Kennon M. Sheldon, Julia Boehm, and Sonja Lyubomirsky
Oxford Handbook of Happiness
Edited by Ilona Boniwell, Susan A. David, and Amanda Conley Ayers
Print Publication Date: Jan 2013 Subject: Psychology, Social Psychology
Online Publication Date: Aug 2013 DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199557257.013.0067
Oxford Handbooks Online
Variety is the Spice of Happiness: The Hedonic Adaptation Prevention Model
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Given these developments, it is worth considering how, and how well, happiness can be
increased. Extensive data support the idea that gross national happiness can be increased
(or decreased) by factors such as national affluence (vs. poverty), peace (vs. war),
democratic government (vs. tyrannical government), trust (vs. widespread corruption),
and societal harmony (vs. ethnic conflict) (Diener, Diener, & Diener, 1995). Surprisingly,
however, data supporting the idea that individual happiness can be permanently
increased are rather weak. Indeed, there are reasons (discussed in the next section) to
doubt that it is possible at all. Accordingly, our research during the last decade has been
dedicated to understanding how much—and how—happiness can be maintained
above an initial baseline. In other words, what (if anything) can people do in their lives to
become happier?
In this chapter, we first discuss the two conceptual models that have guided our research
on the possibility of sustained happiness increases at the individual level. Specifically, we
will review the empirical support for our “sustainable happiness” model (SHM). Then, we
will present and provide preliminary empirical support for our newer “hedonic adaptation
prevention” (HAP) model. Finally, we will present two sets of new data, which will show
that variety is not only the spice of life, but the spice of happiness as well.
The Debatable Potentiality for Sustained Gains
in Happiness
Several facts and findings give rise to skepticism about the feasibility of achieving
sustainable gains in happiness. First, there is the growing consensus that subjective well-
being (SWB) is strongly influenced by genetics, with a heritability of around 0.50
according to twin studies (Diener, Suh, Lucas, & Smith, 1999). This behavioral genetics
research suggests that SWB may be characterized by a genetically-determined “set-
point,” a stable feature of temperament that appears to be immune to deliberate
modification (Lykken & 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-
programmed baseline (Cummins, 2003).
The empirical literature on longitudinal SWB is the source of a second and related reason
for pessimism. In a 4-year panel study, Headey and Wearing (1989) found evidence for a
“dynamic equilibrium” for well-being, such that, although people might shift up or down
somewhat over time, in the long run they tend to end up where they began (see also Suh,
Diener, & Fujita, 1996). Lucas, Clark, Georgellis, and Diener (2003) analyzed large-N
longitudinal data and found that, although positive events such as marriage afford a
temporary boost in SWB, this boost is transient, typically fading within several years.
These data also suggest that the happiness generated by positive life changes can never
be more than a temporary “rush.”
(p. 902)
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Yet a third reason for pessimism arises from literature suggesting that people have a
powerful capacity to adapt to change—not just to sensory and perceptual changes, but to
changes that have positive or negative emotional implications. Most famously, Brickman,
Coates, and Janoff-Bulman's (1978) findings suggest that lottery winners may adapt to
their newfound financial status, falling back to their prior emotional baseline over time.
On the negative event side, Taylor, Lichtman, and Wood (1984) found evidence for
complete adaptation to the adverse effects of breast cancer, 5 years after surgery. This
general tendency to adapt to emotion-relevant change, such that one always winds up
back where one started, has been termed “the hedonic treadmill” (Brickman & Campbell,
1971; Frederick & Loewenstein, 1999). The hedonic treadmill is without a doubt an
adaptive feature of human nature, which helps people recover from the slings and arrows
of negative experience. However, the hedonic treadmill is also a significant impediment to
happiness seekers, because it implies that such seeking is doomed to failure in the end.
Rather than try to become happier than they are, perhaps people should instead try to
become content with what they have?
The Sustainable Happiness Model
Our early work regarding these questions focused on the SHM (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, &
Schkade, 2005; Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2004, 2006), which divides the possible
influences on SWB into three broad categories: genetics, circumstances, and activities
(see Fig. 67.1). Genetics represents the “set-point,” the temperamental and
psychobiological characteristics with which one is born, which account for about 50% of
the variance in SWB and will have a strong and lasting influence. Circumstances
represent a person's demographic profile (gender, ethnicity, income, physical appearance,
health status), as well as the influence of non-psychological variables such as a person's
possessions, geographic location, and immediate surroundings. Circumstances account
for about 10% of the variance in SWB, a surprisingly small figure that we believe is due to
the essentially static nature of circumstances. The rest of the variance, according to the
SHM, is accounted for by what people do—that is, the intentional activities that they
undertake within their daily lives, for good or ill, and with varying degrees of pleasure
and success. Of course, “activities” is a very broad category that can overlap with
“circumstances,” because many circumstances arise through activity, and because
circumstances provide opportunities for differing kinds and amounts of activity. Still, the
SHM focuses on the activities category as the best potential route for sustainably
increasing one's SWB, because ongoing activities are dynamic and changeable, meaning
that activity effects are best positioned to resist erosion by hedonic adaptation. One need
not always do an activity at the same time of day, in the same place, in the same way, and
with the same goals and purposes. Also, one can pursue an activity as an active process of
exploration and discovery, continuously encountering pleasing new features and insights
(p. 903)
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in the context of that activity. If being involved and engaged in life will not do it, then
nothing will.
An emerging research
literature has been building
evidence for the SHM by
examining the efficacy of
various types and categories
of activity for changing SWB.
These include naturalistic
longitudinal studies of
personal goal pursuits
(Sheldon & Cooper, 2008;
Sheldon & Elliot, 1999;
Sheldon & Kasser, 1998);
longitudinal experimental
studies of the effects of
being asked to adopt
new self-chosen life-activities
(Sheldon & Lyubomirsky,
2007, 2009); and intervention
studies of the effects of engaging in various happiness-relevant exercises such as
expressing gratitude (Emmons & McCullough, 2003; Froh, Sefick, & Emmons, 2008;
Lyubomirsky et al., 2005; Lyubomirsky, Dickerhoof, Boehm, & Sheldon, 2011; Seligman,
Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005), contemplating best possible selves (Burton & King, 2008;
Lyubomirsky et al., 2009), committing acts of kindness (Dunn, Aknin, & Norton, 2008;
Lyubomirsky et al., 2005; Otake, Shimai, Tanaka-Matsumi, Otsui, & Fredrickson, 2006),
working on using personal strengths (Seligman et al., 2005), replaying one's happiest
days (Lyubomirsky, Sousa, & Dickerhoof, 2006), and pausing to appreciate, savor, or be
mindful of the good things in one's life (Fredrickson, Cohn, Coffey, Pek, & Finkel, 2008;
Seligman et al., 2005). All of these activities have been shown to have the potential to
boost mood or well-being and in many cases to maintain that increased level at a follow-
up assessment period. In contrast, participants enjoined to engage in various control or
comparison conditions (listing daily life events, making mere circumstantial changes, or
pursuing materialistic or self-oriented goals) typically do not reap benefits, or reap
benefits that are not as large or as long-lasting. A recent meta-analysis of 49 studies (total
N = 4235) revealed that such positive interventions are indeed effective for enhancing
well-being, with a medium-sized effect (mean r = 0.29; Sin & Lyubomirsky, 2009).
One instructive way to illustrate the propositions of the SHM, and to organize its findings
thus far, is via a within-subject regression equation or growth curve model in which SWB
at time t is influenced by three major classes of factors: genetic/temperamental,
circumstantial/demographic, and activity/motivational. The genetic set point defines the
intercept or expected value, all other factors being equal. This factor's effects are
theorized to be fixed and stable over time, and might be modeled with the trait measures
Click to view larger
Fig. 67.1 Sustainable happiness model.
(p. 904)
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of neuroticism, extraversion, or negative affectivity. Circumstances (positive or negative)
have the potential to contribute positively or negatively to SWB at time t, but these effects
are relatively small, and tend to erode over time (as shown by Sheldon & Lyubomirsky,
2009). Thus, one might include a “time elapsed since change” by change-type (activities
vs. circumstances) interaction in the regression equation. New activities have a larger
potential to continue contributing to SWB over time, because they can provide
dynamically varying experiences that continue to elevate people's SWB over time
(Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2007). In other words, a positive new activity, when kept fresh
and interesting, can engender experiences that keep a person happier over a longer
period than the person's genetics alone would indicate.
This within-subject regression approach well illustrates an important assumption of the
SHM—that instead of a set “point” for SWB, people actually have a set “range.” Thus,
although a particular person may have limited potential for joy and ebullience and more
of a tendency towards gloom and pessimism compared to others, that person might still
at least achieve a chronic state of guarded contentment, which is better than chronic
dejection and fear. Everyone has a characteristic range of possible SWB states, and thus
the goal becomes to find ways to stay in the top end of one's own possible range (vs.
regress back to one's own mean). The other terms in the model, beyond genetics,
determine whether, and for how long, an individual can do this.
The foregoing material on “keeping things fresh and interesting” illustrates an important
moderator of activity effects, according to the SHM—namely, variety. The happy
newlyweds who settle down to domestic sameness and taken-for-grantedness, the proud
new car owner who stops driving to fun places, and the formerly curious piano player
who succumbs to the rote routines of practice and procedure will all return back
to their initial baselines. Notably, the original SHM postulated that the longevity of
activity effects on happiness likely depends on many other moderators besides variety,
such as how diligently or successfully one performs the activity (Lyubomirsky et al., 2009;
Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2006), how well the chosen activity fits one's personality and
interests (Lyubomirsky, 2008), and whether the activity is intrinsic or extrinsic in content
(Sheldon Gunz, Nichols, & Ferguson, 2010). However, it is fair to say that variety was
construed in that model as the most important moderator of all, because of its crucial
potential role in curtailing hedonic adaptation. Even so, this prediction has received little
empirical attention to date. The primary purpose of this chapter is to redress this gap.
The Hedonic Adaptation Prevention Model
First, however, we will discuss our newer HAP model, which grants a prominent role to
variety and the processes by which variety can help to thwart hedonic adaptation. Fig.
67.2 depicts the entire HAP model, which is in essence a longitudinal expansion of the
SHM.
(p. 905)
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The temporal model begins
on the left, at Time 1 (T1),
by positing that some kind
of “positive change” has
occurred in a person's life,
resulting in an initial boost
in mood or well-being. The
model ends on the right at
a Time 3 (or any
subsequent) measurement
of well-being, asking the
question, “How can the initial boost be maintained at a later time?” The boxes and arrows
in between the start and end points present our theorizing on how hedonic adaptation
may be prevented, such that the initial boost is, in fact, maintained. We define “well-
being” (WB) as global self-reports of happiness, satisfaction, and mood (as the measures
are often interchangeable; Diener et al., 1999), and we define a “positive
change” as a noticeable and measurable alteration in one's life circumstances or one's life
activities that has a measurable effect on well-being before and after the change. It is
also worth noting that in principle the HAP model should apply to understanding
adaptation to negative events, such that an initial blow (e.g., getting laid off) that reduces
well-being and mood loses its negative impact over time. This application of the model,
however, goes beyond the scope of this chapter (however, see Lyubomirsky (2011), for a
detailed account of this extension). Still, we note that adaptation is often less complete to
profoundly negative events (e.g., disability, divorce; Lucas, 2005, 2007; Lucas et al., 2003)
than to seemingly equally profound positive events (e.g., marriage, receiving tenure).
That is, more people go down and then stay down than those who go up and then stay up,
suggesting that, in a sense, “bad is stronger than good” (Baumeister, Bratslavsky,
Finkenauer, & Vohs, 2001). This makes our research agenda of finding ways to keep
people in the upper end of their own set range even more difficult and challenging
(Lyubomirsky, 2011).
The second step of the HAP model states that those undergoing a noticeable positive
change at Time 1 will tend to experience a larger number of subsequent positive events
compared to those who do not undergo a positive change. For example, a person who
buys a beautiful work of art begins enjoying pleasurable experiences of looking at and
savoring the art, and a person who starts playing in a band begins having pleasurable
episodes of making music and sharing it with others. As these examples illustrate, the
positive events deriving from positive changes can be actual life experiences and real-
world outcomes resulting from one's actions in the new domain, or they can be internal
“thought-events” in which one notices, appreciates, thinks about, or savors the original
positive change. Doubtless, positive changes vary in both the quantity and quality of the
positive events they produce, and the difference between different types of change has
itself been a prominent topic for research inquiry (i.e., does gratitude generate longer-
Click to view larger
Fig. 67.2 Hedonic adaptation prevention model. WB,
well-being.
(p. 906)
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lasting happiness boosts than savoring?; do intrinsic or need-satisfying goals work better
than extrinsic or non-satisfying goals?; e.g., Seligman et al., 2005; Sheldon &
Lyubomirsky, 2009; Sheldon et al., 2010).
Moving to the next step, the HAP model specifies two major routes extending away from
the positive events and toward final well-being. (We will ignore the many potential
moderators in the model, returning to them later.) The “emotions” route (at the bottom)
specifies that positive events produce positive emotional experiences, to varying degrees.
In turn, the number of positive emotions impacts global judgments of well-being made at
Time 3 or beyond. In this view, Time 3 happiness is higher (controlling for Time 1 and
Time 2 happiness)—that is, the initial boost has been maintained—to the extent that there
have been more discrete positive emotions experienced between Time 2 and Time 3. This
lower route relies on a “bottom-up” conception of well-being (Diener, 1984), in which
global happiness judgments are influenced by the number of salient positive experiences
that come to mind as one makes the judgments. Someone who can recall many “warm
glows” from recent experience will tend to rate him or herself as happier than someone
who cannot recall many such experiences.
As a case in point, consider a couple who is nearing completion of an exciting renovation
and addition to their home. Are they happier than they were 6 months ago, before
construction began? Yes—the positive change (finally starting construction) produced
many positive events, as each new facet of the house came into being, and as each
subsequent set of engaging decisions arose. These events produced a quantity and
variety of positive emotions (aesthetic pleasure, as their initial design choices came to
life; closeness, as they collaborated on each new decision; pride, as they showed
the evolving house to their friends). When they rate their happiness now, these memories,
as well as the pleasure of living in the nearly finished product, elevate their reported
happiness levels. However, if the couple had had fewer positive events (and perhaps more
arguments!) due to conflicting aesthetic preferences, or had experienced fewer positive
emotions (or more negative ones) due to the stress of living in a house under
construction, then these facts would predict a less sustained boost at Time 3.
Note that hedonic adaptation processes could operate in this lower part of the model by
reducing the number of positive events derived from the positive change (e.g., one no
longer notices one's new car and forgets to take it for pleasurable drives) or by reducing
the number of positive emotions derived from events (e.g., even while driving the car on a
winding mountain road, one takes it for granted and no longer feels the same excitement
and pride). Thus, the key to preventing adaptation and maintaining boosts, according to
this part of the model, is to keep up the number of positive events and emotions. The car
owner should make time in his schedule to drive and enjoy the car, perhaps taking it to
automobile shows at which he and other owners of that model can meet and exchange
ideas. In this way, adaptation to the car can be forestalled.
(p. 907)
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Now let us consider the top route in the model, the “aspirations” route. This part of the
model explains the erosion of initial well-being gains in terms of cognitive processes that
ensue from the initial positive change and its associated positive events. Thus, the upper
route tackles hedonic adaptation at the level of judgmental processes and expectations.
According to the model, the more positive events there are, the more one's expectations
and aspirations regarding further positive events are increased (represented in the figure
by the path from positive events to aspirations). In other words, when things are going
well, one starts to take them for granted and starts assuming that they will always be
there—perhaps even coming to feel entitled to the new positive situation, rather than
appreciative of it. The new, more positive regime becomes the new status quo, making
one susceptible to wanting (or craving) and expecting (or demanding) even more. Finally,
the negatively-signed path from aspirations to Time 3 SWB indicates that the more one's
aspirations and expectancies increase, the less the resulting Time 3 well-being. In other
words, those who come to expect and feel that they deserve a greater quantity of positive
events, and perhaps demand even more, derive less pleasure from those events, reducing
their happiness. This process has been referred to as the “satisfaction
treadmill” (Kahneman, 1999), and represents a top-down effect on well-being—one's
standards and basis for judging one's global well-being have changed, resulting in a
reduction in that estimate.
Returning to the “renovated house” example, suppose that the couple, now that they are
ensconced in their redesigned house, begin to take for granted the spacious new
bedroom and balcony, the vaulting 2-story entrance foyer, and the remodeled kitchen; in
other words, they stop noticing or thinking about the positive changes, so that they fade
into the background as they move on with their lives. Or worse, suppose they begin to
look around at other houses in their new price category, recognizing desirable features in
these houses they do not have, and feeling envy or greed as a result. Perhaps they begin
to feel that their house does not match up well to this new level of standard, and begin
aspiring to even further changes or an even better home. Such processes could
undermine the initial happiness boost, working to return the couple to their initial
baseline.
Notably, then, the HAP model recognizes the paradoxical effects of positive changes in
life—that they can produce positive events that boost one's happiness, but at the same
time, these events can change one's standards and expectations, working against
one's happiness. Of course, neither pathway is certain or inevitable, and this is where the
rest of the model comes in.
As can be seen in Fig. 67.2, we specify several moderators that are expected to affect the
strength of various relations within the model. These moderators include the nature or
content of the initial change (e.g., intrinsic vs. extrinsic, activity vs. circumstance,
gratitude vs. neutral activity); the extent to which resultant positive events are surprising,
novel, or unexpected; and the extent to which one continues to appreciate the original
change, and recognize that it could easily “change back.” Most important for this
chapter's purposes, one of these key moderators is variety—the extent to which the
(p. 908)
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positive events and positive emotions resulting from the change vary in their content,
similarity, timing, and diversity. By definition, adaptation occurs only in response to
constant or repeated stimuli, not to dynamically varying ones (Frederick & Loewenstein,
1999; see also Helson, 1964; Parducci, 1995). Variety, in both thoughts and behaviors,
appears to be innately stimulating and rewarding (Berlyne, 1970; Pronin & E. Jacobs,
2008; Rolls, Rolls, Rowe, & Sweeney, 1981; see Ebstein et al., 1996; Suhara et al., 2001,
for links to dopamine activity). Thus, variety appears as a moderator in three different
places within the model (moderating the positive events to aspiration level link, the
number of positive events to positive emotions link, and the number of positive emotions
to sustained well-being link), endowing it with a special role for reducing hedonic
adaptation and increasing the durability of happiness changes.
Despite its likely central relevance for understanding how to sustainably boost happiness,
the construct of variety has received surprisingly little empirical attention in the
literature. Thus, in the remainder of this chapter, we will describe the previously
unpublished results from two longitudinal studies that support variety's important role in
thwarting adaptation and thereby in prolonging well-being. These two studies—one
correlational and one experimental—do not permit testing of the entire temporal
sequence laid out in the HAP model, but they do permit testing of the key hypothesis that
variety plays a moderating role in the process by which positive experiences bring about
sustained well-being.
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Study 1: Rated Variety Predicts Maintained
Well-being
For the first study, we recruited 134 introductory psychology students at the University of
Missouri, USA, 38 men and 96 women (mostly Caucasian), who signed up online for a
three-part investigation. Initially, participants attended small-group laboratory sessions in
which they were told the following: “We are studying positive mood, and the factors that
sustain it. We will assess your mood and happiness now and later in the semester, to see
how they change.” After completing the Positive and Negative Activation Scale (PANAS;
Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988), each participant was asked to attempt something
“which might influence your mood.” Seventy students were randomly assigned to identify
a goal or activity change they could make in the next 2 weeks (i.e., “You might join a
rewarding new group, club, or sports team, decide on a major or career direction which
makes it clear how to focus your life, or take on some other important new project in your
life”), and the remaining 64 were assigned to identify a circumstance they could
change (i.e., “You might buy yourself something you need or want, arrange to get an on-
campus parking permit, or drop a course that you were really going to have trouble
with”). Research assistants examined each participant's listed change to make sure it fit
the assigned category. Example activity changes listed included “Get involved in my
sorority's rush committee,” “Join an intramural basketball team,” and “Introduce myself
to all my professors”; example circumstance changes listed included “Get my old
roommate to finish moving his stuff out,” “Drop Physical Chemistry,” and “Pay off my
parking tickets.”
After answering a filler questionnaire, participants completed the PANAS again, so we
could examine the effects of the initial positive event (i.e., designating a positive change
to make) on mood. Finally, approximately 2 weeks later, participants filled out an online
survey in which they again were asked to complete the PANAS. Additionally, they were
asked, “Did you actually make the change you said you would make? Please tell the truth
– it is ok if you didn't (we expect that), we just need to know, for the purposes of our
study.” The data below concern only the 79 participants who responded “Yes” to this
question. These students were asked to rate the variety of their change (“To what extent
is the change something that varies over time, i.e., something that adds variety to your
life?”), using a 1 (not at all) to 5 (very much) scale. Activity change participants reported
slightly more variety in their change than circumstance change participants (Ms = 3.10
vs. 2.74), but this finding did not reach significance, t(77) = 1.54, p = 0.127. Our results
are collapsed across type of change (activity vs. circumstance), because this factor did
not moderate the findings reported in this chapter; in other words, variety had the same
effect in both conditions.
For each of the three time points, we computed a single “affect balance” score by
subtracting negative affect from positive affect on the PANAS (Sheldon & Lyubomirsky,
2006). Preliminary full-sample analyses of these data indicated that affect balance
(p. 909)
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increased between the beginning and the end of the first session (Time 1 to Time 2; Ms =
1.42 vs. 1.71, t(78) = 4.06, p < 0.01), likely because participants were pleased to have
made a commitment to a positive change. This fulfills the HAP model's assumption that
there is an initial event that raises initial well-being. However, no difference emerged
between Time 1 affect balance and Time 3 affect balance, 2 weeks later (Ms = 1.42 and
1.51, ns), suggesting that the effects of making the initial change, if any, had on average
dissipated by Time 3.
Thus the question becomes, which participants, if any, maintained their gains in well-
being at Time 3? To address this question, we regressed Time 3 affect balance on Time 1
affect balance (so that positive change from Time 1 to Time 3 would be the focal quantity
to be predicted) and also the rated variety of the change at Time 3. This analysis revealed
a significant Time 1 affect balance effect (i.e., the test-retest coefficient; β = 0.60, p <
0.01). This coefficient is substantial but also indicates some variability or inconsistency
between Time 1 and Time 3. In fact, as expected, rated variety significantly predicted this
variability (β = 0.19, p < 0.05). This finding suggests that those who enacted their change
(e.g., start walking to work) with greater variety (e.g., walking a different route to work
every day this week) were more successful at maintaining their initial boost, consistent
with a central proposition of the HAP model (although we did not have the data to
examine which of the two routes in Fig. 67.2 were most affected).
At a second step of the equation, we entered Time 2 affect balance, and found a trend for
the variety effect (β =0.14, p = 0.10), indicating that variety predicted enhanced affect
balance controlling for both prior measures of well-being, a more rigorous standard
implying that variety nearly predicted increased well-being after Time 2, when
well-being was already elevated. At a third step of the equation, we controlled for which
type of life change was made (activities or circumstances), finding neither a significant
main effect nor a significant interaction with variety. Thus, in these data, the variety of
the assigned change was a more robust predictor of maintained change than the exact
type of change.
In sum, Study 1 supplied initial evidence that the degree of variety associated with a
positive life change helps to maintain the longer-term effects of that change upon well-
being. However, Study 1 was only correlational, and relied on participants’ self-reports of
variety rather than on a more objective means of varying how people experience a life
change. To redress this shortcoming, for a second study, we collected experimental data
with random assignment to further illuminate the role of variety.
(p. 910)
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Study 2: Experimentally Assigned Variety
Predicts Gains in Well-being
In the second study, 52 undergraduate students from an ethnically diverse campus of the
University of California were invited to participate in a longitudinal investigation about
“aspects of college students’ lives over the course of a [school] quarter.” Interested
students attended an introductory laboratory session where they were asked to list
numerous acts of kindness that they could feasibly perform in the future. Kind acts were
described to participants as “acts that are not normally expected in your daily life (i.e.,
they are over and above what you typically do) and involve some sacrifice by you (e.g., in
effort, energy, time, or money).”
After participants listed possible kind acts to do, they were instructed to perform the kind
acts during the next 10 weeks. Participants logged in to an online diary to report what
kind acts they had completed each week. Examples of such acts include “Taking out the
trash in my [shared] apartment,” “Letting a friend borrow a book for class,” “Cooking
dinner for my roommates” and “Letting several cars merge in front of me on the
freeway.” Importantly, some students were randomly told to repeat the same kind acts
each week for the duration of the study (low variety condition), whereas other students
were told to vary the acts that they performed and not repeat them (high variety
condition). We hypothesized that those participants who practiced kind acts in new and
different ways each week (i.e., the high variety condition) would derive more positive
emotions from the activity and demonstrate enhanced well-being at the end of the 10-
week intervention. By contrast, we hypothesized that those participants who practiced
kind acts in routine, unvarying ways each week (i.e., the low variety condition) would
derive less and less added positive emotions from the activity over time and thus
demonstrate no change in well-being by the end of the 10-week intervention. In other
words, people in the low variety condition were expected to adapt to practicing acts of
kindness relatively quickly, whereas people in the high variety condition were expected to
thwart adaptation by engaging in novel, changing activities.
We measured participants’ happiness at baseline and immediately after the intervention
period with the 4-item Subjective Happiness Scale (SHS; Lyubomirsky & Lepper, 1999).
We then calculated change scores by subtracting baseline happiness from post-
intervention happiness. Students in the high variety condition reported enhanced
happiness following the intervention (M = +0.03, SD = 0.75) relative to students
in the low variety condition who actually reported diminished happiness following the
intervention (M = −0.78, SD = 1.16). These changes in well-being were significantly
different for the high variety vs. low variety conditions, t(50) = 3.00, p = 0.004. This
finding suggests that not only does implementing an intentional activity in new and
unpredictable ways help bolster one's well-being, but that repeating an intentional
activity without spontaneity and freshness may actually be detrimental to well-being. It is
also worth noting that it may appear that high variety participants did not actually
(p. 911)
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become happier, and that instead, low variety participants became unhappier. However,
this pattern of results needs to be understood in the context of the typical temporal trend
for students to become unhappier over the course of an academic quarter, as the
workload increases and initial optimism gives way to less rosy realities. Seen this way, the
high variety participants were able to avoid the typical decline in SWB shown by students
as found in previous longitudinal intervention studies (e.g., Lyubomirsky et al., 2005).
In sum, our second study found that those randomly assigned to engage in more varied
kindness activities derive higher maintained well-being at the end of the intervention,
compared to those assigned to engage in less varied activities. This is consistent with the
HAP model and also with a saying from first-century BC writer Publilius Syrus, who
observed, “No pleasure endures unseasoned by variety.” Notably, the main finding from
this experimental study extends the correlational conclusions of Study 1, and further
suggests that attending to variety in one's actions may be a powerful happiness
enhancing strategy.
In conclusion, the two studies we have reported here provide the first support for an
important feature of both the SHM and HAP models—the notion that varying how one
does a “positive” activity may be crucial in determining whether that activity continues to
have enhancing effects on peoples’ well-being. Again, a key assumption of the HAP model
is that an ongoing stream of fresh positive events and positive emotions are necessary to
maintain a person in the upper end of his or her “set range.” Hedonic adaptation is a
powerful counterweight to this possibility, and in order to overcome it, one must continue
to vary the positive experiences one has. We as researchers recognize this in our own
lives; the thrill and satisfaction of conducting research is enhanced when we ask new
questions, test new phenomena, and develop new theories. In this way, the potential “ho
hum” of our work lives is forestalled, so that we can remain as excited about research as
when we were graduate students. To return to the title of this chapter—variety is, indeed,
the spice of happiness.
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Kennon M. Sheldon
Kennon M. Sheldon, Department of Psychology, University of Missouri–Columbia,
Columbia, MO, USA
Julia Boehm
Julia Boehm, Department of Society, Human Development, and Health, Harvard
School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA
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... For example, to explain the onset of depression after negative life events, it has been proposed that social support (Abramson et al., 1989) and social-environmental conditions (Slavich & Irwin, 2014) are relevant environmental factors. Furthermore, the Information-Processing Model (Ingram, 1984) and the Hedonic Adaptation Prevention Model (Sheldon et al., 2013) suggested that "associated environmental changes" (i.e., minor and major changes in the environment that were elicited by the life event) explain individual differences in the adaptation to positive and negative life events. These associated environmental changes are supposed to transmit the effect of a life event and thus determine how people adapt to an event (Luhmann & Intelisano, 2018;Sheldon et al., 2013). ...
... Furthermore, the Information-Processing Model (Ingram, 1984) and the Hedonic Adaptation Prevention Model (Sheldon et al., 2013) suggested that "associated environmental changes" (i.e., minor and major changes in the environment that were elicited by the life event) explain individual differences in the adaptation to positive and negative life events. These associated environmental changes are supposed to transmit the effect of a life event and thus determine how people adapt to an event (Luhmann & Intelisano, 2018;Sheldon et al., 2013). ...
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Full-text available
Negative life events such as a relationship breakup or a job loss can lead to personality trait changes. However, people react differently to these negative life events and currently we only have a limited understanding of these individual differences. Drawing on theories and research from different areas of psychology, we examined personal (personality functioning), environmental (environmental changes), and event-related factors (e.g., perceived event characteristics) explaining individual differences in personality trait change. To do this, we assessed personality trait changes at five measurement occasions over 6 months in a sample of 1,076 participants who experienced a negative life event in the last 5 weeks. Using preregistered multilevel lasso estimation, we did not find any significant effects. While exploratory analyses generally confirmed this conclusion, they also identified some effects that might being worth considering in future research (e.g., perceived valence and perceived world-view changes were associated with changes in neuroticism after experiencing certain negative events). Our study has several important implications for future research on individual differences in change. For example, future research should consider personal, environmental, and event-related moderators, consider different analytical methods, with highly powered samples to detect very small effects, and combine event-specific and combined analyses.
... If so, then we would expect individuals to reap greater emotional benefits when their behaviors more directly fulfil those needs, such as by helping a close vs. casual friend, or performing acts that they regard as particularly moral. Previous work also suggests that variety might be key because variation counteracts the tendency to acclimate to repeated experiences [99]. Our unplanned exploratory analyses are consistent with this idea-prosocial acts only yielded benefits for those who tried to do more than was typical for them. ...
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Background The COVID-19 pandemic, the accompanying lockdown measures, and their possible long-term effects have made mental health a pressing public health concern. Acts that focus on benefiting others-known as prosocial behaviors-offer one promising intervention that is both flexible and low cost. However, neither the range of emotional states prosocial acts impact nor the size of those effects is currently clear-both of which directly influence its attractiveness as a treatment option.Objective To assess the effect of prosocial activity on emotional well-being (happiness, belief that one's life is valuable) and mental health (anxiety, depression).Methods1,234 respondents from the United States and Canada were recruited from Amazon's Mechanical Turk and randomly assigned (by computer software) to perform prosocial (N = 411), self-focused (N = 423), or neutral (N = 400) behaviors three times a week for three weeks. A follow-up assessment was given two weeks after the intervention. Participants were blind to alternative conditions. Analyses were based on 1052 participants (Nprosocial = 347, Nself = 365, Nneutral = 340).FindingsThose in the prosocial condition did not differ on any outcome from those in the self-focused or neutral acts conditions during the intervention or at follow-up, nor did prosocial effects differ for those who had been negatively affected socially or economically by the pandemic (all p's > 0.05). Exploratory analyses that more tightly controlled for study compliance found that prosocial acts reduced anxiety relative to neutral acts control (β = -0.12 [95% CI: -0.22 to -0.02]) and increased the belief that one's life is valuable (β = 0.11 [95% CI: 0.03 to 0.19]). These effects persisted throughout the intervention and at follow-up.Conclusion Prosocial acts may provide small, lasting benefits to emotional well-being and mental health. Future work should replicate these results using tighter, pre-registered controls on study compliance.
... To note, many psychologists dispute set point theory (e.g., Headey 2014;Sheldon et al. 2014; see Khalil 2019), while a few economists support it (seeMishra et al. 2016).Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved. ...
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Easterlin notes a contradiction in the data. While the cross-sectional data set shows that happiness is a positive monotonic function of income, the time-series data set of high income countries demonstrates that happiness does not rise with the rise of income. To solve the paradox, this paper proposes that each data set reveals a different facet of happiness. The cross-sectional data set asks people how they assess their current well-being in general. This question prompts people to contrast their current well-being with a well-being in the distant past. This explains why happiness tracks income. In comparison, the time-series data ask people how they feel at the moment. This question prompts people to contrast their current well-being with an aspired goal in the future. Their response is a function of the gap that exists between their current well-being and the aspired one. The gap is usually steady for high income countries and, hence, happiness is likewise steady, i.e., insensitive to the rise of income. The proposed solution highlights the operation of contextual assessment: we have two facets of happiness following the two kinds of context in operation.
... This is not to suggest that self-actualisation is some sort of metastrategy for SWB that subsumes all others. There is a lot of value in studying strategies appropriate to the acquisition of any one of the dimensions of wellbeing, such as Sheldon et al.'s (2013) hedonic adaptation prevention model. I discuss such techniques throughout the book. ...
Chapter
How do you measure a construct as complex as subjective wellbeing? The first part of this chapter reviews the many tools available for measuring each dimension of the construct, as well as the well-being profile—a new measure that holds some promise for capturing subjective wellbeing holistically in only fifteen questions. The second part of the chapter then explains why even fifteen questions is likely too long for many applications in policy and social science. Life satisfaction scales hold a great deal of promise as a unidimensional and sufficiently cardinal measure of subjective wellbeing for these applications. However, there are several concerns about these scales, notably inconsistent scale use across respondents or within respondents over time, that need to be investigated more thoroughly. The chapter provides a conceptual analysis of these concerns and uses them to differentiate adaptation, scale-norming, and reference point shifts.
... This is not to suggest that self-actualisation is some sort of metastrategy for SWB that subsumes all others. There is a lot of value in studying strategies appropriate to the acquisition of any one of the dimensions of wellbeing, such as Sheldon et al.'s (2013) hedonic adaptation prevention model. I discuss such techniques throughout the book. ...
Chapter
While subjective well-being scholarship has its merits, it is not without its weaknesses, and these are the subject of this chapter. While the definition and approach of the field were appropriate in its historical context, they are inappropriate and indeed problematic for applications in public policy. In particular, this chapter demonstrates that the field is naive about the normative implications of “wellbeing” theories and that its measurement instruments lack precision. Both of these faults find their origins in the field’s atheoretic inclinations and operationalist epistemology. It is time to replace this with a more realist epistemology. That requires a thorough theory of subjective wellbeing that engages extensively with normativity, which this book provides.
... This is not to suggest that self-actualisation is some sort of metastrategy for SWB that subsumes all others. There is a lot of value in studying strategies appropriate to the acquisition of any one of the dimensions of wellbeing, such as Sheldon et al.'s (2013) hedonic adaptation prevention model. I discuss such techniques throughout the book. ...
Book
The study of “subjective wellbeing” has seen explosive growth in recent decades, opening important new discourses in personality and social psychology, happiness economics, and moral philosophy. Now it is moving into the policy domain. In this it has arguably overstepped its limits. The shallow theoretical base of subjective wellbeing research, the limitations of its measurement instruments, and its ethical naivety make policymaking on the basis of its findings a risky venture. The present volume is an attempt to shore up these weaknesses and set subjective wellbeing scholarship on a course for several more decades of growth and maturation. It presents a theory of subjective wellbeing in two parts. The first is the subjective wellbeing production function—a model of wellbeing as outcome. The second is the coalescence of being—a model of the self-actualization process by which wellbeing is achieved. This two-part model integrates ideas from subjective wellbeing studies with complementary ideas in analytical and continental philosophy, clinical, moral, and developmental psychology, and welfare economics. Importantly, this theory is ethically sensitive, bridging the gap between the philosophical and psychological perspectives on wellbeing in a way that illuminates the complexities facing the application of subjective wellbeing in public policy. The book also provides a thorough review of various ways in which subjective wellbeing can be studied empirically, and the hard trade-offs we face between long surveys that capture the richness of the concept and the parsimony required by social surveys and policy analysis.
... Boredom, therefore, is likely to be one obstacle for people whose strategy for achieving well-being is simply to have very few values (cf. Sheldon et al., 2013). More generally, for any given innate or evolved goal, relatively few people will have such low levels of motivation (whether conscious or not) that they could entirely ignore that goal while achieving well-being. ...
Article
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Value Fulfillment Theory (VFT) is a philosophical theory of well-being. Cybernetic Big Five Theory (CB5T) is a psychological theory of personality. Both start with a conception of the person as a goal-seeking (or value-pursuing) organism, and both take goals and the psychological integration of goals to be key to well-being. By joining VFT and CB5T, we produce a cybernetic value fulfillment theory in which we argue that well-being is best conceived as the fulfillment of psychologically integrated values. Well-being is the effective pursuit of a set of nonconflicting values that are emotionally, motivationally, and cognitively suitable to the person. The primary difference in our theory from other psychological theories of well-being is that it does not provide a list of intrinsic goods, instead emphasizing that each person may have their own list of intrinsic goods. We discuss the implications of our theory for measuring, researching, and improving well-being.
Article
The article analyzes discussions about whether gratitude is an experience or a personal trait and part of the worldview. It is shown that the researchers focused on two components of gratitude: cognitive one (rational assessment of the actions usefulness of other or certain events) and affective one (experiencing a set of positive emotions: joy, admiration). Recently, the idea that gratitude is a personality trait has become widespread. In our opinion, gratitude is a basic life guideline, which is manifested in the cognitive aspect – assessing what a person has, awareness of the time perspective of life, understanding the manifestations of positivity (implicit theory of the positive world), in the affective aspect – experiencing specific emotions, reverence, admiration, affection) during the meeting with certain objects, which, in fact, chooses the person himself, in the behavioral aspect – control of their own attention to focus on the positive in the current moment, as well as choosing more optimal response strategies. Researches of the gratitude impact on the experience of well-being and its individual aspects have shown that there are complex interrelationships between gratitude and the parameters of personal well-being. On the one hand, gratitude contributes to the formation of positive relationships, because the person encourages others to justify his hopes. On the other hand, gratitude reduces hedonistic adaptation and encourages the individual not to take the positive aspects of his life for granted, and thus becomes a personal resource when experiencing stress. There are formalized social practices of gratitude – certain rituals of expression of gratitude on clearly defined “holidays”. The actual implementation of the act of gratitude has a relatively low effect. The most effective personal practices of gratitude are considered to be cognitive – the actualization of the experience of gratitude by increasing attention to small details and awareness of their importance while reducing the focus on fair exchange with the world. In particular, making various forms of lists of things and phenomena for which a person is grateful, solving hypothetical situations, writing letters of gratefulness, and so on. When applying such practices, their diversity is important to maintain the motivation of an individual to use them. Key words: gratitude, well-being personality, positive emotion, gratitude practice, optimal functioning.
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Most people want to be happy and many look out for opportunities to achieve a more satisfying life. Following a happiness training is an option, but the effectiveness of such training is being questioned. In this research synthesis we assessed: 1) whether happiness training techniques add to the happiness of their users, 2) how much happiness training techniques add to happiness, 3) how long the effect of happiness training lasts, 4) what kinds of training techniques work best, and 5) what types of groups of people profit from taking happiness training. We took stock of the available research and found 106 reports of effect studies on training techniques, which together yielded 314 findings. These findings are available in an online ‘findings archive’, the World Database of Happiness. Using links to this source allows us to condense information in tabular overviews, while providing the reader with access to much detail. Happiness training techniques seem to do what they are designed to do: 96% of the studies showed a gain in happiness post intervention and at follow-up, about half of the positive results were statistically significant. Studies with cross-sectional designs and studies that used control groups showed more mixed results. The average effect of happiness training was approximately 5% of the scale range. We conclude that taking a form of happiness training is advisable for individuals looking for a more satisfying life. Since happier workers tend to be more productive, organizations would be wise to provide such training techniques for their workforce.
Chapter
Full-text available
Most people want to be happy and many look out for opportunities to achieve a more satisfying life. Following a happiness training is an option, but the effectiveness of such training is being questioned. In this research synthesis we assessed: 1) whether happiness training techniques add to the happiness of their users, 2) how much happiness training techniques add to happiness, 3) how long the effect of happiness training lasts, 4) what kinds of training techniques work best, and 5) what types of groups of people profit from taking happiness training. We took stock of the available research and found 106 reports of effect studies on training techniques, which together yielded 314 findings. These findings are available in an online 'findings archive', the World Database of Happiness. Using links to this source allows us to condense information in tabular overviews, while providing the reader with access to much detail. Happiness training techniques seem to do what they are designed to do: 96% of the studies showed a gain in happiness post intervention and at follow-up, about half of the positive results were statistically significant. Studies with cross-sectional designs and studies that used control groups showed more mixed results. The average effect of happiness training was Prime Archives in Psychology: 2 nd Edition 3 www.videleaf.com approximately 5% of the scale range. We conclude that taking a form of happiness training is advisable for individuals looking for a more satisfying life. Since happier workers tend to be more productive, organizations would be wise to provide such training techniques for their workforce.
Chapter
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Why it may be Impossible to Increase a Person's Happiness LevelWhy it may be Possible to Increase a Person's happiness level after allA New Conceptual Model of HappinessTesting the ModelHappiness-inducing InterventionsFuture Research and Recommendations for InterventionsFactors Influencing Participants' Acceptance of InterventionsRecommendations for HappinessConclusion
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Empirical and anecdotal evidence for hedonic adaptation suggests that the joys of loves and triumphs and the sorrows of losses and humiliations fade with time. If people's goals are to increase or maintain well-being, then their objectives will diverge depending on whether their fortunes have turned for the better (which necessitates slowing down or thwarting adaptation) or for the worse (which calls for activating and accelerating it). In this chapter, I first introduce the construct of hedonic adaptation and its attendant complexities. Next, I review empirical evidence on how people adapt to circumstantial changes, and conjecture why the adaptation rate differs in response to favorable versus unfavorable life changes. I then discuss the relevance of examining adaptation to questions of how to enhance happiness (in the positive domain) and to facilitate coping (in the negative domain). Finally, I present a new dynamic theoretical model (developed with Sheldon) of the processes and mechanisms underlying hedonic adaptation. Drawing from the positive psychological literature, I propose ways that people can fashion self-practiced positive activities in the service of managing stress and bolstering well-being.
Article
The literature on subjective well-being (SWB), including happiness, life satisfaction, and positive affect, is reviewed in three areas: measurement, causal factors, and theory. Psychometric data on single-item and multi-item subjective well-being scales are presented, and the measures are compared. Measuring various components of subjective well-being is discussed. In terms of causal influences, research findings on the demographic correlates of SWB are evaluated, as well as the findings on other influences such as health, social contact, activity, and personality. A number of theoretical approaches to happiness are presented and discussed: telic theories, associationistic models, activity theories, judgment approaches, and top-down versus bottom-up conceptions.
Article
Gratitude, like other positive emotions, has inspired many theological and philosophical writings, but it has inspired very little vigorous, empirical research. In an effort to remedy this oversight, this book brings together prominent scientists from various disciplines to examine what has become known as the most-neglected emotion. The volume begins with the historical, philosophical, and theoretical foundations of gratitude, and then presents the current research perspectives from social, personality, and developmental psychology, as well as from primatology, anthropology, and biology. The volume also includes a comprehensive, annotated bibliography of research on gratitude. This work contributes a great deal to the growing positive psychology initiative and to the scientific investigation of positive human emotions. It will be an invaluable resource for researchers and students in social, personality, developmental, clinical, and health psychology, as well as to sociologists and cultural anthropologists.
Article
ABSTRACT Cross-sectional studies show that divorced people report lower levels of life satisfaction than do married people. However, such studies cannot determine whether satisfaction actually changes following divorce. In the current study, data from an 18-year panel study of more than 30,000 Germans were used to examine reaction and adaptation to divorce. Results show that satisfaction drops as one approaches divorce and then gradually rebounds over time. However, the return to baseline is not complete. In addition, prospective analyses show that people who will divorce are less happy than those who stay married, even before either group gets married. Thus, the association between divorce and life satisfaction is due to both preexisting differences and lasting changes following the event.
Article
Although some theory suggests that it is impossible to increase one's subjective well-being (SWB), our ‘sustainable happiness model’ (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, & Schkade, 2005) specifies conditions under which this may be accomplished. To illustrate the three classes of predictor in the model, we first review research on the demographic/circumstantial, temperament/personality, and intentional/experiential correlates of SWB. We then introduce the sustainable happiness model, which suggests that changing one's goals and activities in life is the best route to sustainable new SWB. However, the goals and activities must be of certain positive types, must fit one's personality and needs, must be practiced diligently and successfully, must be varied in their timing and enactment, and must provide a continued stream of fresh positive experiences. Research supporting the model is reviewed, including new research suggesting that happiness intervention effects are not just placebo effects.
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This article presents a theoretical account relating thought speed to mood and psychological experience. Thought sequences that occur at a fast speed generally induce more positive affect than do those that occur slowly. Thought speed constitutes one aspect of mental motion. Another aspect involves thought variability, or the degree to which thoughts in a sequence either vary widely from or revolve closely around a theme. Thought sequences possessing more motion (occurring fast and varying widely) generally produce more positive affect than do sequences possessing little motion (occurring slowly and repetitively). When speed and variability oppose each other, such that one is low and the other is high, predictable psychological states also emerge. For example, whereas slow, repetitive thinking can prompt dejection, fast, repetitive thinking can prompt anxiety. This distinction is related to the fact that fast thinking involves greater actual and felt energy than slow thinking does. Effects of mental motion occur independent of the specific content of thought. Their consequences for mood and energy hold psychotherapeutic relevance. © 2008 Association for Psychological Science.