IN his book Happiness: The Science behind Your Smile, British psychologist Daniel Nettle observes that happiness varies from country to country. For example, the Swiss are much more happy than Bulgarians. The book also concludes that living in constantly noisy places reduces happiness.
Natural selection doesn’t give a fig for our happiness. Nettle concludes that that what we are programmed for by evolution is not happiness itself, but a set of beliefs about the kinds of things that will bring happiness, and a disposition to pursue them.
Nettle essentially equates happiness with satisfaction. He points out that most of the things people think will make them happy do not. He writes of the hedonic treadmill — the idea that if we get status and other worldy goods, we adapt to them so quickly that our happiness level returns to what it was before we got them.
The things that really determine our happiness level are genes, satisfaction, autonomy, and challenges
In the end, Nettle suggests that we would all probably be happier by trading income or material goods for time with people or hobbies, though most people do not do so.
Another way to feel better is to forget about pursuing happiness, and focus on broader ambitions. “People with faith, or a broad range of interests, often achieve a kind of satisfaction,” Nettle says, “because there is a wider set of goals that puts their immediate suffering into context.”
And concentrating on something else could mean that happiness might just turn up when we are not looking.