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We don’t know what makes us happy, said Harvard professor

Harvard professor discusses the misconceptions of happiness

Gulf News

Dubai: Getting what you want will not necessarily make you happy, and listening to your mother may not work either, said Dr Daniel Gilbert, Professor of psychology at Harvard University.

While many people believe that happiness can be achieved by getting what they want, Dr Gilbert pointed out that large portions of the world have exactly what they want and are still unhappy.

The reason is that we don’t really know what makes us happy.

To better explain the mystery behind happiness, Dr Gilbert pointed out that our own imagination, along with socialisation, the things we are told by those around us, are two factors that play a role in painting a misleading picture of happiness.

People assume that events like having a baby and winning a lottery will make them happy, whereas losing your job or getting divorced will make them unhappy.

However, Dr Gilbert said that data collected shows otherwise.

Mothers from across the world also share the same recipe for happiness with their children — marriage, money, and children.

While not completely wrong, Dr Daniel explained that data suggests that on average married people around the world are happier than unmarried people — that is until the marriage goes wrong. Measured happiness between married couples shows that the levels of happiness usually start to decrease after 15 to 20 years on average — sometimes sooner — for some couples.

“The most important question to ask is — is your husband or wife your best friend?”

On the other hand, divorce has been shown to make people happier, confirming that only a good marriage can make a person happy.

Little money, more happiness

Another misconception is that more money equals more happiness. Dr Gilbert said that most people misspend their money either by getting out of obligations that would actually make them happy or by spending all their money on themselves and purchasing tangible things. Again, data shows that people get more happiness out of experiences such as travelling than they do out of durable goods such as cars.

“With money, a little buys a lot and lot buys a little,” he said.

The third and very common piece of motherly advice that may not necessarily lead to happiness is having children.

Data shows that people with children report less happiness than people without children, and that those with young children are the unhappiest.

The curve continues to go down showing unhappiness until the child leaves the house, said Dr Gilbert.

Stay-at-home mums were also reported to be more depressed than working mums and women without children. Does this mean having children is a source of misery? No.

Dr Gilbert explained that these findings represent the average person and may indicate that parents are in need of spending more time and giving more attention to their children.

“Mothers are always to be loved but they are not always right,” said Dr Gilbert.