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International experts claim that economic gain is not the key to happiness

Well-being experts from the UK, USA and Europe met last week (November 2) at Brunel University's School of Social Sciences to review the latest research findings regarding the way in which we adapt to events and changes in personal circumstances and the effect this has on our life-satisfaction.

The conclusion was that subjective factors, such as time spent with family, tend to have a greater impact on a person's well-being than objective factors, such as economic income.

Some of the key findings revealed include:

• Adjustment to the idea of being unemployed tends to be quicker for those with higher levels of job and life-satisfaction prior to unemployment and for those who suffer a larger reduction in well-being as a result of their job loss

• A person's satisfaction with their income is better at explaining well-being than their actual income; an increase in real income does not tend to lead directly to an increase in life-satisfaction

• Our well-being is a product of personal trade-offs between satisfying intrinsic needs (such as time spent with family) versus satisfying extrinsic desires (such as income and status). When it comes to decision making (e.g. whether or not to take a new job which offers a considerably higher salary but will involve a much longer commute) we tend to lay more importance on the extrinsic factors (salary) than on the intrinsic factors (commute) even though these intrinsic factors may have a greater impact on our life-satisfaction in the long run.

Dr. Yannis Georgellis, senior lecturer at Brunel University's School of Social Sciences and coordinator of the international workshop, comments: “Examining whether events or changes in life circumstances have a lasting impact on subjective well-being is not a new area of psychological research. However, for the first time, this selection of research explores sophisticated methodologies to assess patterns of adaptation to these changes that exist across varieties of events and groups of individuals.

“Some of the research findings, particularly those regarding adaptation to unemployment, are surprising at first glance but make sense when you consider the circumstances more closely. For example, a higher rate of adjustment to unemployment amongst those with higher job and life-satisfaction could be explained by the fact that this group of individuals is more determined to take action to exit unemployment than those who were less happy prior to unemployment.

“Human resources professionals and business leaders who are striving to nurture the well-being of their employees could benefit from these findings and, indeed, we as individuals could benefit from a greater understanding of how the decisions we make impact our long-term happiness.“


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