Achieving Sustainable Gains in Happiness: Change Your Actions, not Your Circumstances*

Abstract

Although attaining happiness is a nearly universal goal, surprisingly little research has focused on how happiness can be increased and then sustained. Three studies test predictions of a model (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005) positing that sustainable happiness is possible through intentional activity changes, more so than through circumstantial changes. Study 1 shows that less hedonic adaptation is reported in response to activity changes than to circumstantial changes. Study 2 tests a dynamic process model, showing that while both positive activity changes and positive circumstantial changes predict rank-order increases in subjective well-being from Time 1 to Time 2, only activity changes predict maintained gains at Time 3. Study 3 replicates the Study 2 findings and extends them to psychological well-being (Ryff and Keyes, 1995). Implications for positive psychology and “the pursuit of happiness” are discussed.

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Correspondence to Kennon M. Sheldon.

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*This work was supported in part by grants from the Positive Psychology Network.

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Sheldon, K.M., Lyubomirsky, S. Achieving Sustainable Gains in Happiness: Change Your Actions, not Your Circumstances*. J Happiness Stud 7, 55–86 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-005-0868-8

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Keywords

  • happiness
  • hedonic adaptation
  • set point
  • well-being