So you want to be happy. Can you be more specific? A study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that concrete, rather than abstract, goals for happiness tend to be more successful. Jennifer Aaker, PhD, Stanford social psychologist and marketing professor, and colleagues performed six field and laboratory experiments and found that participants who performed specific acts of kindness – such as recycling or making someone smile – reported greater happiness than participants whose prosocial goals were less precise – such as helping the environment or people more broadly.
From a Stanford News article:
The reason is that when you pursue concretely framed goals, your expectations of success are more likely to be met in reality. On the other hand, broad and abstract goals may bring about happiness' dark side – unrealistic expectations.
Acting directly and specifically in service to others brings greater happiness to the giver, the study found. The piece continues:
For example, an experiment involving bone marrow transplants focused on the whether giving those who need bone marrow transplants "greater hope" – the abstract goal – or giving those who need bone marrow transplants a "better chance of finding a donor" – the concrete goal – made a giver more happy.
The answer: Helping someone find a donor resulted in more happiness for the giver. This, the researchers wrote, was driven by givers' perceptions that their actual acts better met their expectations of accomplishing their goal of helping another person.
Previously: Study shows happiness and meaning in life may be different goals, Are you happy now? Stanford Roundtable spotlights the science of happiness and wellbeing and Stanford faculty and students launch social media campaign to expand bone marrow donor registry
Photo by Iryna Yeroshko