The Psychology of Everyday Life: Motivation and the Search For Happiness

The Psychology of Happiness

How did a 1978 study help support the theory that we are born with a “happiness set point” that is largely unaffected by events in our lives?

A famous study conducted by Philip Brickman, Dan Coates, and Ronnie Janoff-Bulman in 1978 compared people who had come into enormous good fortune (lottery winners), people who had suffered tremendous misfortune (paraplegic and quadriplegic accident victims), and their neighbors. The findings from this study have been used to justify the idea of the happiness set point. The authors found that lottery winners were only slightly (and not statistically significantly) happier than their neighbors and that paralyzed accident victims were only modestly less happy than their neighbors. On a 0-5 scale of happiness, lottery winners scored an average of 4.00, accident victims 2.96, and neighbors 3.82. All three groups believed they would be equally happy in the future but, compared to the other two groups, accident victims believed they had been happier in the past.

Does sudden good fortune, like winning the lottery, make us happier? One important study concluded: not by much (iStock).


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