Why Life’s Big Events Don’t Matter So Much

by Stephen Mills on February 6, 2013

That dream job, promotion, mate, house, car, or dreaded breakup, surprise job loss, devastating diagnosis may not matter as much as you think.   Most of us dream about or alternatively worry about how big events in our lives are going to make us happy or bring us down.  A lot of research though actually indicates that it isn’t those big events that really matter as much as we might credit them.

The fact is that we usually bounce back from adversity and come down from our temporary highs relatively quickly and return to our baseline level of happiness in a process known as hedonic adaptation.  These big life events are quickly overwhelmed by the more mundane daily ups and downs.

It’s counter intuitive that the jammed up traffic, slow people in front of you in line, a rude clerk, overheard catty comment, argument with your teenager, etc. bring you down more than the big events, but counter intuitive or not, that’s what research shows.  These smaller and daily constant hits on your mood accumulate to overwhelm the big stuff.  The same thing applies to the positive events but it is worth pointing out that negative stuff matters more than positive stuff.  That’s why you need many more positive events than negative ones to thrive.

The takeaway is not to sacrifice your daily happiness for that big dream.  It will quickly be the norm and you will then be looking for then next big thing to satisfy your “I will be happy when …” fantasy.  You can deal with the small stuff by adjusting your response to them.  Maybe somebody should write a book called “Don’t Sweat the Big Stuff”.

Actually someone did write the book but the author Sonja Lyubomirsky called it The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Sean Sullivan February 7, 2013 at 12:16 am

Great point, Steven. There is some great marriage and relationship research by the “Gottman Drs.” demonstrating the importance of a ~5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions b/t members of a couple to keep the couple healthy! Speaks to the same point of the overpowering negative experiences ruining the day ;( I just checked their site out. It has some good resources if anyone wants to take a look: http://www.gottman.com/
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