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From "Rational Choice in an Uncertain World" by Reid Hastie and Robyn Dawes:

The best current theory of well-being proposes that most people have hedonic set points, ambient levels of ebullience or depression that are consistent within an individual and that vary reliably across individuals. ... Hedonically significant events (divorce, losing a job, winning the lottery, getting into your first choice college) move you up or down, but after 3 months (or at most, 6) you're back to normal.


Alright, so what are the implications of this? Certainly, people who think they're living better lives because they worked hard for a long time to achieve their goals are wrong, since this would imply that, for example, spending four years in college studying instead of having fun to land a good job would only pay off for 3-6 months.


Hard work doesn't pay off.


That's just one way to look at it, though.  I'm interested in hearing from the rest of you.  Definitely, it's an incomplete theory, but I agree with the idea that how happy you are has more to do with who you are than with what your life is like. My solution is to live for the now, and to make sure I change things frequently so I can stay above my hedonic set point.

Tags: happiness, psychology, success

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It is an interesting theory. It makes sense, given that there are alot of people out there who seem to have everything they could want, yet are still unhappy. There are also a lot of people out there in situations that would make a lot of us cringe, yet they manage to be happy somehow.

If you notice, though, the examples that are given for "hedonically significant events" are all external events. That would imply that external events only have a certain amount of impact - this seems reasonable, as humans have to have a fair amount of resiliency to survive life's ups and downs.

Your contention, though, that "hard work doesn't pay off", doens't take into account any "hedonically significant" intrinsic factors. Many people derive a feeling of satisfaction from doing their best. If you work you butt off during the semester and get a B in a class that you found difficult, many people would get more satisfaction and sense of well-being from that then partying through the semester and cheating on the exam and getting an A in the course. Of course, there are people out there that get a great sense of satisfaction and well-being from being able to cheat and not get caught, or being able to con someone (the university in this case), and they would probably get more satisfaction from cheating and getting an A, but the satisfaction is for a different reason, if you see what I mean.

I think that the setting of someone's individual "hedonic set points" has a great deal to do with intrinsic factors,  and can probably be actively changed if one tries. I think this is what is meant when we are told that happiness comes from the inside, or that nobody can make you unhappy with out your co-operation.  If you choose to be a glass half-empty kind of person, your set points are probably high, and it takes a lot from an external source to make you happy. If you are a glass half full kind of person, your set points are lower, and you are more easily made happy by things external to you. However, it is your choice to be a glass half empty or glass half full kind of person, and so you set your own hedonic points.

That's my take on it - what does everyone else think?

What I think Margaret, is that you are able to simplify very complex psychological phenomena, and make very good arguments. I am a fan from the time you wrote about 'abusees in relationships'.

I can't even go there about intrinsic happiness stuff - I will be too confronted by low my base-line! I am Scots/viking decendant, the dourness, and ADD is conditioned and genetic. Particularly on the days when my batteries have run down, I don't feel I've got a lot of choice over full or empty glasses. Sometimes I can't even see the glass, let alone whether it's half full or half empty. I am glass on glass. 


When debilitating, my ADD is a power outtage/black-out. Like when the power gets turned off, the TV goes blank, there are no connecting thoughts to know what is showing on the channels.  I have a total loss of image/identity/memory.  Yet, when there is the right stimulation, and the catalyst need not be significant, it's like someone (outside of myself) turning the power back on, my mental screen lights up and away I go. Suddenly my receiver is able to channel the cosmic wave length.

This makes me very vulnerable in the rewards department.  No matter what I achieve, I can't really hold on to a sense of achievement.  I am depressed after an achievement, the drive (the electrical current) is lost, I don't have my 'picture' and can't tune into the cosmos.  


It's not the completion of my task, the recognition, the high grade, the favourable review, but  action that is my reward. 


Give me something to do that's not been done before, difficult, gritty, complicated, messy, frustrating, requires the use of hunting skills (research, materials sourcing, stimulus),  I wind up, paddle towards the horizon, assess the set formation, catch the wave, solve the problem, test the resolution, paddle hard to catch the wave, get uplifted by the surf and I'm happy. Even thought I don't know it, because I'm riding the wave.  But when I'm back on shore, I've got little idea of how I got there, or the way back home.   The accomplishment might be absolutely stunning, my peers may all now be surfing the wave I discovered, but I'm there, by myself, on shore, looking at the glassy surf, and I don't feel like I 'own' anything, belong anywhere or can carry anything forward. I might be being swept back out into the ocean. I might not even have a voice to call out to the people surfing the results of my creativity. 


You just gave a wonderful description of how I feel when I have been achieving something, anything, via hyperfocus,and either finish what I wanted to achieve, or totally run out of energy. To me, it seems that it is the loss of hyperfocus that brings about the down feeling; it can be slightly blue, all the way to outright tears. For me, hyperfocus feels wonderful - I can do anything in hyperfocus, nothing is out of reach. Coming back to the everyday, humdrum, prosaic world, with all of its challenges, is such a let down. Living in a state of hyperfocus would be so amazing.  However, I know that prolonged hyperfocus is also severely energy draining. "Mental coffee breaks" are necessary !!!



From this site, I've noticed a number of co-morbid, bi-polar dx that seems to attach to ADD.  Could be that the message needs to get out about the inability to focus, catalyst, hyper-focus, fogginess ADD cycle of creativity/productivity? This might be a lighter touch than mania and depression for people looking for more than a targeted treatment with what I hear are expensive medications for bi-polar. 


Is there another disorder we could use as a metaphor for measurement, an image that has warning signs and symptoms? Like diabetes?  The more we could identify the internal and external influences on ADD patterns, the better we might be able to identify / regulate / manage our own journeys in and out of hyper-focus. 


Or is this wishful thinking?  The fact of the hyper-focus is being at one with the task, it's new, original, pioneering.  Like 'happiness' for me, maybe this can't be maintained by cognitive behaviours - creative explorations are the opposite of the repetition and routine.  As they are opposite to the behaviours required to meet base needs. Yet without having the homework and housework sorted, coming back to the everyday is even scratchier.

 I don't think it is wishful thinking at all. We are all trying to find what works best with our particular brains and how to regulate them - be it diet, exercise, stress reduction or whatever.

I think that Bryan has done a fair amount of work on bringing his hyperfocus more under his control, and it would be nice to hear his opinion here.

Bryan - you out there??


(I have no idea why this keeps all coming out in italics - I am just calling it one of life's mysterys, and posting it as it is

Interesting point about hard work. So then, graduating magna cum laude would be absolutely no better than getting high score in a video game: they're both instances of accomplishing something difficult that you put a lot of effort into.

If anything, playing video games is more likely to be enjoyable than studying, so it would be more rational to go for high score than good grades.

I think that depends on what you enjoy. I personally go into hyperfocus when I study, and I LOVE the way that hyperfocus feels. I actually enjoy studying. Video games are okay, but I would probably be happier with studying.

The things that trigger the hedonic points are probably quite individualized. Things don't necessarily make you happy, but they can make you more comfortable! However, there is a lot more attached to "things" in terms of hitting your hedonic points then just the object. I like my iphone, it is useful, cool, and a fun toy. However, I HAVE an iphone because my husband went to a great deal of effort to get me one the day they were released in Canada for my birthday. When I think of, use, whatever, my iphone4, the happy glow I have is not just because I have an i4, but because of how I got it, and it reminds me of how much my husband loves me. So, yes the i4 hits my hedonic point, but more because of the feelings attached to it, and what it represents to me.


If you really don't care where you end up working, and can be happy doing anything, then you probably don't have to graduate magna cum laude to be happy. However, if you are intent on getting an MBA, and that, for you, would represent success, or what ever, and hit your hedonic point, then studying rather than playing video games may be a better choice in terms of longer term happiness.

(seriously, are you just looking for a way out of studying??? lol)


Nah, I like studying too, I'm more pointing out how all sets of values are equally valid.  Like you said, it's individualized.  Caring where you end up working has nothing to do with graduating magna cum laude--it has more to do with picking your major.  Having an MBA won't open up new fields of work so much as it'll allow you to attain a higher position within that field.  However, do you think your boss is happier than you are?  Probably not.


One other thing is that, now that I know there's little value, on its own, in working to get A's instead of B's, I can push myself to attain a higher GPA.  See, I like behaving irrationally, it's a whole lot of fun.  Now I can do what others consider the right thing while convincing myself that it's not the right thing.

I like you, Ben!! You are SO ADHD!!!


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