Imagine that tomorrow you win the lottery and collect $500 million. Would you be happier being wealthy than you were before? The answer to that question might be less obvious than one would imagine. In 1978, psychologists compared two groups of subjects with a control group. The first group consisted of winners of the Illinois state lottery. The second group were victims of devastating accidents that left them paralyzed from either the waist or the neck down.
The study found that:
the [lottery] winners considered themselves no happier at the time of the interviews than the members of the control group did. In the future, the winners expected to become slightly happier, but, once again, no more so than the control-group members. Even the accident victims expected to be happier than the lottery winners within a few years. Meanwhile, the winners took significantly less pleasure in daily activities—including clothes-buying—than the members of the other two groups.
It might seem perplexing that a lottery winner who is made wealthy quickly would revert back to previous levels of happiness and actually be less happy in some areas than a quadriplegic, but if you ask economist Dr. Arthur Brooks, this is in keeping with the idea that “earned success” leads to happiness. By earned success, Brooks is referring to hard work that leads to profit. It turns out that modern research affirms what the wisest of us have known all along; money that is earned through hard work is much more rewarding to us than money that is simply given to us. Human beings have the ability to adapt fairly quickly to both positive and negative experiences. Winning the lottery will quickly raise our happiness levels; but sooner or later, that mountain-top euphoria will end and we will come crashing back to earth. Likewise, after a paralyzing accident, a quadriplegic will no doubt experience lows in happiness; but sooner or later, the valley will end and they will return to pre-accident happiness levels, and some will even rise above those levels.
Not only is earned success a major key to happiness – faith, family, and community are, as well. Unfortunately, the corporate world is often driven by the quest for the almighty dollar; employees work longer and longer days at the office to earn larger and larger paychecks to buy bigger and bigger houses and fancier and fancier cars – all in the hopes that this will lead to happiness. I once heard someone say that no one on their deathbed says, “I wish I would have worked more hours at the office,” but plenty of people express remorse that they didn’t spend more time with their family. Research shows that people who are active in their community and engaged with their family tend to be happier.
If you want to be happy, strengthen the bonds in your family, be active and engaged in your community, and work hard to earn the kind of success that gives you satisfaction and pride in a job well done. And remember, circumstances in life may raise or lower your happiness but if you find joy in the daily activities, you’ll be able to weather the storms, savor the mountaintops, and take pleasure in the little things of life.
Part two of a four part series on work.