Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Happiness, comparatively speaking: How we think about life's rewards

Date:
April 10, 2011
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
You win some, you lose some. You get the perfect job -- the one your heart is set on. Or you get snubbed. Such are life's ups and downs. But what if you win and lose at the same time? You land a good job, not a great one. A new study says you'll find a way to be happy anyway.

You win some, you lose some. You get the perfect job -- the one your heart is set on. Or you get snubbed. You win the girl (or guy) of your dreams -- or you strike out. Such are life's ups and downs.

But what if you win and lose at the same time? You land a good job -- but not a great one. Or you do get a plum offer -- but not the one you wanted?

A study published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, says you'll find a way to be happy anyway.

"Good outcomes have relative value and absolute value, and that affects our happiness," explains Carnegie Mellon assistant professor Karim S. Kassam, who conducted the study with Carnegie colleague Carey K. Morewedge, Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University, and Timothy D. Wilson of the University of Virginia.

If you're a "winner" -- you get the best, relative to the alternatives -- you're happy regardless of the prize's absolute value.

"Losers" -- who win something less valuable than the alternative -- may at first be disappointed, but they usually come around. "People are motivated to think about things in the best possible light," says Kassam. So they move on to reflect on the absolute value, and find satisfaction there.

To test these phenomena, the authors ran two experiments. In the first, 297 people on the Boston streets were given lottery tickets. They were asked to scratch off one side and received cash in the amount printed underneath-$1, $3, $5, or $7. Then they scratched off the other side, revealing either a higher or lower amount. Afterwards, they completed questionnaires rating their happiness, disappointment, or regret.

The "winners" (who got the bigger of two amounts) were, unsurprisingly, happier than the losers -- but also equally happy with any prize. The losers' happiness, by contrast, increased with the prize amounts.

How does this work? A second experiment tested the hypothesis that the losers think harder to find happiness. The researchers distracted the participants brains while asking them to consider differing rewards.

In four trials, 31 participants were asked to memorize either a two- or an eight-digit number and choose one of two boxes with prize amounts ($3 or $5) inside, which were displayed on a screen. At the end, they were told, they'd receive the amount in one of their chosen boxes, randomly selected. Then both boxes opened. Unknown to the participants, the design made them all losers -- they'd always pick the lesser amount. The combinations of memory difficulty -- "cognitive load" -- and cash received ($3 or $5) varied. In each trial, participants rated their feelings.

Again, larger prizes made these losers happier -- but only when they had enough brainpower to think about it. Under higher cognitive load, they were glad to get either amount.

"When you win something, it's always a positive experience," says Kassam. "But if there's this tinge of negative affect, that motivates people to rationalize, to reframe things in a way that will make them happy." The good news: even if you can't do that extra thinking, you'll settle -- for happiness.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "Happiness, comparatively speaking: How we think about life's rewards." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 April 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110405161911.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2011, April 10). Happiness, comparatively speaking: How we think about life's rewards. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110405161911.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "Happiness, comparatively speaking: How we think about life's rewards." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110405161911.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Idaho Boy Helps Brother With Disabilities Complete Triathlon

Idaho Boy Helps Brother With Disabilities Complete Triathlon

Newsy (July 23, 2014) An 8-year-old boy helped his younger brother, who has a rare genetic condition that's confined him to a wheelchair, finish a triathlon. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Huge Schizophrenia Study Finds Dozens Of New Genetic Causes

Huge Schizophrenia Study Finds Dozens Of New Genetic Causes

Newsy (July 22, 2014) The 83 new genetic markers could open dozens of new avenues for schizophrenia treatment research. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Why Do People Believe We Only Use 10 Percent Of Our Brains?

Why Do People Believe We Only Use 10 Percent Of Our Brains?

Newsy (July 22, 2014) The new sci-fi thriller "Lucy" is making people question whether we really use all our brainpower. But, as scientists have insisted for years, we do. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Do Obese Women Have 'Food Learning Impairment'?

Do Obese Women Have 'Food Learning Impairment'?

Newsy (July 18, 2014) Yale researchers tested 135 men and women, and it was only obese women who were deemed to have "impaired associative learning." Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins