Can't Buy Happiness?

Money, personality, and well-being

Can Our Daily Activities Make Us Happier Today AND Tomorrow?

The more a person engages in eudaimonic behaviors the happier they are.

There is something rather predictable about being a researcher who studies happiness—when I tell people what I do I tend to hear two questions: (1) how can I increase my happiness? and (2) people do that for a living?

Taking the second question first, yes, you can do that. As for the first question, honestly, I struggle with giving happiness advice. Fortunately, there is pretty solid research on the types of daily behaviors that increase people’s happiness.  

Steger, Kashdan, and Oishi asked people, over a four week period, the types of activities they did each day and their levels of daily well-being, satisfaction, and positive emotions. Their goal was to determine the behaviors which are associated with “the good life” or, at least in this case, the good day.

What’s important are the two categories of behaviors they measured: hedonic experiences and eudaimonic activities.

Hedonic experiences are those types of behaviors we engage in that are really only pleasure-oriented (e.g, getting drunk, watching television or playing video games, buying jewelry or electronics just for yourself, or having sex purely for pleasure).

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Whereas eudaimonic activities, which refer to a life lived to its fullest potential, are more pro-social and purpose-oriented (e.g., volunteering, giving money to someone in need, expressing gratitude, listening carefully to another person's point of view).

In general, the more a person engaged in eudaimonic ('good, pro-social') behaviors the higher their daily well-being, satisfaction, and positive emotions were that day. However, engaging in hedonic behaviors did not results in changes in these measures of well-being. Interestingly, there was a carry-over effect in that the previous day’s eudaimonic activities improved the well-being a person experienced the following day.

Why is this? We expect that eudaimonic behaviors are beneficial because they satisfy basic psychological needs (autonomy, relatedness, and competence) which are necessary for ultimate well-being.

So, before you can know if specific behaviors are increasing your daily well-being, you need to know your current level of well-being. To receive personalized feedback on your current level of psychological need satisfaction and eudaimonic well-being, first Login with BeyondThePurchase.Org then take the Basic Need Satisfaction Inventory and the Flourishing Scale. After you complete these quizzes, you will receive personalized feedback as well as tips for improving your daily happiness.

This post is based on the following article: Being good by doing good: Daily eudaimonic activity and well-being, by M. Steger, T. Kashdan, S. Oishi (2008) in the Journal of Research in Personality.

Natalia Kominiarczuk, MA, a volunteer research assistant in thePersonality and Well-being Lab at San Francisco State University, contributed to this entry.

Ryan T. Howell, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at San Francisco State University.

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