Monday, December 29, 2008

A (slightly) new twist on an old maxim

In his 1954 treatise on the topic of happiness,The Real Enjoyment of Living, Rabbi Hyman Judah Schachtel, suggested that "happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have." An April 2008 Psychological Science article describes research by Jeff Larsen and Amie McKibban into just that proposition. Undergraduates were asked whether they owned each of a list of 52 items, and then asked the extent to which they wanted those items. The relationships were then examined between these ratings and variables such as gratitude and happiness. The researchers found that subjects can become accustomed to their material possessions and come to derive little pleasure from them. On the other hand, Larsen & McKibban found that sustained gratitude and appreciation for prized belongings is associated with happiness. They conclude that "happiness is both wanting what you have and having what you want."

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