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Why does our happiness seem to be most affected by recent, short term happenings rather than the high level trends of our lives?

For example, a person has begun their life in a very humble or even disadvantaged position: poor education, a lack of parental involvement, and an exposure to drug addiction. This same person, through through their own fortitude manages, to change their life trajectory so that they have a comfortable job, a home in a safe part of town, and many loving friendships. Why then, despite having overcome such odds, are they still likely to be happy or unhappy based on small, localized daily situations, like getting into a disagreement at work or having a friend cancel plans.

To phrase the question a different way, why do large scale personal achievements often have less impact on our moment to moment satisfaction than whatever we're experiencing right now?

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2 Answers

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Research on well-being has explored happiness from different temporal perspectives.

Much of the literature looks at how people respond to measures of life satisfaction, quality of life, and measures of tendencies to experience positive and negative emotion. These tend to reflect longer term evaluations and emotional experiences. This shows up in for example, the relatively stability that individuals show on such measures. For example Fujita and Diener (2005) examined longitudinal data over 17 years and found substantial correlations in life satisfaction over that period of time.

There are a variety of concepts such as the hedonic treadmill and set point theory which propose that people have a general tendency when it comes to well-being. General daily experiences can lead people to deviate from their set-point, but that with the exception of a few extreme events (e.g., divorce, major trauma, etc.) people tend to return to their set point.

That said, there is another line of research that looks more at the moment to moment affective experience. Such research has often employed experience sampling methods (e.g., Kuppens et al, 2010) and this clearly shows more of what you are talking about: i.e., the way that mood fluctuates in relation to the little daily hassles and pleasures that we experience.

One perspective is that the global assessment and momentary moods serve different functional purposes. Momentary moods help to guide our response in particular situations. For example, a stressful situation may call for increased vigilance or attention. An experience which elicits negative emotions maybe one to avoid. In contrast, global assessments of life satisfaction are much broader and all encompassing and may help to guide us in our broader life plans.

References

  • Fujita, F., & Diener, E. (2005). Life satisfaction set point: stability and change. Journal of personality and social psychology, 88(1), 158. PDF
  • Kuppens, P., Oravecz, Z., & Tuerlinckx, F. (2010). Feelings change: accounting for individual differences in the temporal dynamics of affect. Journal of personality and social psychology, 99(6), 1042. PDF
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Suppose a man plants a tree hoping that one day he would rest under the tree, eating fruits along with his wife and kids. He tells himself:- I'll be very happy that day.

Now, once he tells himself that he "WILL" be happy, his happiness gets postponed. Now every time he seeks pleasure in some other thing, he starts wishing- "Had my plant grown by now, I would have seated in its shade and enjoy this ever more."

After days and days spent waiting for that specific day, there are fleeting moments of love, affection and happiness that he misses out.

Now one day, he is finally sitting under that tree, eating fruits with his wife and child. His dream has come true. But this time if his children misbehave with him, his dream setup will cripple and he'll mourn why is his special moment being ruined? Therefore his long term goal didn't bring about happiness. The tree brought comfort and fruits. When kids misbehaved, man was still seated with comfort under the tree. But whether that comfort brings happiness or not, that comes from the heart of the person.

Human being strives to perfection, and perfection does not exist. Therefore one who wants to be happy should give up on his drive for perfection. Perfect setting doesn't bring about happiness

Instead of delaying his happiness, if that man had thought that, together, I and my family sow the seed, let us celebrate together. Then, when the seedling originates, he should be happy. And finally when tree would grow, he must seek pleasure that it has grown.

Happiness isn't mechanical, generally its aspects are:- physical(first), emotional(second) and spiritual(third) in that order of relevance.

A person should set his agenda, his goals because they give comfort. Happiness is what person gives to himself.

SUMMARY:- Therefore grow a tree, (it's an environmental bliss), sit under it, enjoy fruits but don't delay your happiness. Goals of life should facilitate happiness, should not refrain man from being happy till that goal completes. Happiness like every other wonderful things in the world, come in small packages. They are floating around you. Grab them and have fun

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