As several scholars have documented,
the desire to lead a happy and fulfilling life is a universal one – and one
that even our ancestors had. However, while the topic of happiness has
traditionally attracted the attention of philosophers and religious leaders, it
has, more recently, started attracting the attention of social scientists. These
scientists’ findings reveal that there are two major – and inter-related –
reasons why people aren’t as happy as they could be.
First, people have erroneous
theories about the determinants of happiness. Most people, for example, expect an
increase in material possessions (e.g., wealth) to have a bigger impact on
happiness than it actually does. Likewise, most people do not expect pro-social
behavior (e.g., generosity) to enhance happiness-levels as much as it actually
does. Second, even when people’s lay-theories about what will make them happy
are accurate, they often can’t bring themselves to make happiness-maximizing decisions.
There are several reasons for this, including the desire to pursue more
quantifiable goals at the expense of less quantifiable, but more happiness-enhancing,
In this course, we’ll explore empirical
findings and theories that: a) document support for both reasons why people
aren’t as happy as they could be, b) reveal why people exhibit these happiness-eroding
tendencies, and c) what people can do to overcome these tendencies to enhance
their happiness levels.