The idea that you can get happier and stay happier after a major life change has taken hits in recent decades, with research that lottery winners are no happier than nonwinners after 18 months and a happi- ness boost post-marriage often fades in about two years.
But new studies suggest that rising above your long-term happiness level or “set point” may be possible for some. In a preliminary study in the Per- sonality and Social Psychology Bulletin, researchers found that people who continued to appreciate a positive change and derive varying experiences from it were more likely to sustain a happiness boost.
“We think what it really comes down to is, whatever this change is, it should remain present in your life experience and supply positive daily experiences,” says study co-author Kennon Sheldon of the University of Missouri.
For a newlywed, that might mean going to dinner or a trip together, Sheldon says. For the proud owner of a new painting, it might mean seeing the work from other angles or tak- ing an art appreciation course.
These activities can sustain your appreciation of the positive change and combat the cycle of rising aspirations, in which a great thing happens (engagement, new job) and you’re thrilled at first, but get used it and long for something even better (a spouse who helps more, a corner office).
The overall message from the study: “Smell the roses and don’t wish you had even better roses,” Sheldon says.
The study looked at happiness levels only over three months.