The science of happiness

Tuesday, September 20, 2011
The science of happiness
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Are grumps and grouches born or made? Jordan Baker discovers some secrets to happiness that will put a smile on your dial.

For a few weeks last February, Tyron Krost was bursting with happiness. After being dragged to a poker championship because he had nothing else to do that night, the 23-year-old Sydneysider shocked everyone, including himself, by beating almost 750 other people to pick up $2 million in prize money, the largest amount ever awarded at a live tournament in the Southern Hemisphere.

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The money, which he has invested, will set him up for life, and he is now sponsored to travel the world playing in tournaments. But here’s the thing; a few months after his win, Tyron was no happier than he was before.

“I’d like to think that before the tournament I was a pretty happy guy, and still think I’m about as happy,” he says.

“To be honest, I don’t really think about the money all that much and maybe that’s why. In the very short-term it definitely makes you happier, but in the long-term, I suspect you quickly become your normal self again.”

Tyron is a case in point for those who specialise in the science of happiness. Their research has found that it’s true money cannot buy happiness.

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As our income grows we simply adapt, and begin comparing our lifestyle and possessions with wealthier people.

Of course, a bit of money helps cover life’s necessities. Yet, if money does not bring happiness, what does?

It’s a question to which a growing number of academics – psychologists, scientists, even economists – are devoting their attention.

This discipline is different from, and dismissive of, the so-called “Happiness Industry” that reaps billions of dollars a year from self-help books, meditation gurus and life coaches.

These researchers use science and data collected from thousands worldwide to analyse what makes humans happy.

They tend to agree on one thing – that we have only partial control over our happiness.

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Studies of identical twins raised apart found they have similar levels of life satisfaction, suggesting that at least a portion is genetic.

Now researchers have turned their attention to a related question: How much of our capacity for happiness is inherited and how much is influenced by our choices?

Your say: How much control do you think we have over our own happiness?

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