Happiness, is it really just intrinsically driven?

happinessEarlier, when we undermined the complexity of the word ‘happiness’, we thought that ‘getting our expectations lowered’ was the guaranteed, infallible way to being happy. As we have delved deeper into the folds of the blanket of human emotions, we have come up with new ‘variables’ which determine the equation of happiness. It is now well-accepted that ‘the level of others’ happiness’ plays an important role in determining the equation for YOUR happiness. One moment, you are happy. You open your Instagram account and boom! Just as you see somebody else happier or sadder than you, your happiness levels fluctuate.

Scientists tried to solve this herculean riddle by conducting an experiment that involved a little gambling. Two groups of people were involved. With one of the groups, they used version 1 of the game; that is, each person could either earn $5 (the figure is hypothetical) or earn nothing. Version 2, associated with a second group of people was played on the terms that an individual could either lose $5 or lose nothing. Outcome of this experiment? Well, the people who lost nothing were happier than the people who gained nothing, though monetarily, all of them were on the same level.  This reflects the importance of context (in happiness); if a person got more than what he/ she expected, he/she was happier as compared to when the results fell short of his/her expectations. But that is pretty obvious, isn’t it?

Now, a slight modification. The people were asked to give away money (amount of their choice) to a stranger. Here is when two new factors come into the equation; envy and guilt. The amount of money given away was determined by the interplay of these two factors. If a person gave more money, he/ she was driven by more of guilt and less of envy. And vice versa. For those who feel social service and acts of donation are purely selfless, I reckon it is not so. We donate out of guilt and cache out of disregard.

Another modification; the one that brings out the fact that delight and misery love having friends. If both the persons (in a couple) won in a game, the happiness levels of each one of them were at their respective maximum. If a person won while the partner lost, the person experienced a dip in his/ her happiness levels (probably owing to guilt). The persons also didn’t get much sad when their partners also lost, probably schadenfreude.

Thus, in a nutshell, expectations is one variable in determining a person’s happiness. The other, equally (if not more) important variable is ‘other people’s happiness’.

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