Happiness: a matter of choice?

– Amy Corderoy: The Age, Melbourne

Research shows that choice of partner and life goals drastically affect a person’s satisfaction with life – overturning the popular theory that happiness is largely decided by personality traits moulded early in life and genetic factors.


Over the course of their life, about 40 per cent of people experienced large changes in their levels of happiness, said the study leader, Bruce Headey, an associate professor at the Melbourne Institute at Melbourne University.

The study, the first to track happiness over a long period, followed 60,000 Germans for up to 25 years.

Over the long-term, happiness was variable, and depended on the life goals and choices of the individual.

People who prioritised their relationship with their partner and children were happier than those interested in career or material success, as were those with altruistic goals such as helping people or being involved in social or political activities.

Working shorter hours did not necessarily lead to happiness, but working a lot more or less than they wanted made people very unhappy.

”It appears that prioritising success and material goals is actually harmful to life satisfaction,” Professor Headey wrote in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Partner choice played a big role. Women were less happy if their partner did not prioritise family goals than if they had no partner, and people with a neurotic partner were far less happy over time.

Doing exercise was beneficial, and obesity was strongly linked to unhappiness – particularly for women.

Professor Headey did not know why many people kept prioritising goals that did not seem to make them happy: ”I think people don’t often sit down and think about what really makes them happy, and then try to do more of that.”

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19 thoughts on “Happiness: a matter of choice?

  1. You are basically what you THINK!

    If you think happy you are happy and if you think unhappy you are unhappy.

    There is another way to find more about your mind through meditation. Then you see things the way they really are through CONCENTRATION and INSIGHT.

  2. Happiness is my choice… I’m giving this October 5th post to myself as an awesome birthday gift… cheers

  3. I think success brings happiness. You cannot be happy at faliure but success automatically brings happiness. Imagine meeting your sales target for the day, week, month and year. Imagine passing all your exams. Imagine surviving a gastly motor accident. Imagine seeing you kids graduate with good grades from sch. Imagine waking to a new day. Imagine winning a court case. Imagine being winning an oscar award. Imagine being named the sports man of the year. Imagine being named FIFA player of the year. Imagine winning the Orange award. Imagine winning a Grammy Award. Imagine winning a contest,an election, a match. Imagine being named the best in this… or that… etc etc.. Hey wait a little. So wouldn’t any of the above bring you happiness?

  4. I am happy if I want to be happy. I have the choice to set a goal. Be it with family or career choice. I chose some years ago to work with this thinking program and I love it. It is true -We are not born trained thinkers. Learning how to think showed me the way to happiness.

  5. Being blissfully happy does not interest me in the slightest. but to steer the middle course,neither up or down has always worked for me.

  6. i do not think you can be happy all the time
    to get where you want to be have to go through stress and bad times

    also happiness with a partner does not always last

    also with career if you do not do well in your career your partner and children are not always happy
    because you have no money and cannot offer life experiences
    if you are successfull you may not have as much spare time as you would like
    you cannot have it all ways

  7. I would agree with those who responded:

    If you’re alone on this planet, you can be happy or unhappy – it’s up to you.

    But if you’re a member of society, there are ‘values’, people are told on every their routine day, which are honored in that particular society.

    And if that particular society does not honor happiness, that it might well head in the wrong direction.

    But nobody cares.

    If it, in general, can be well said about women that they go through pain and stress, particularly, when they deliver a birth, the very same cliché (and the pattern usually uniformly employed for daily activities) might not be applicable to men (in general). You know, why.

    We might appreciate that “there are women, men, and families” (M.Thatcher, former UK Prime Minister)

  8. Happiness is elusive and planning for it does not always produce it . Working towards something you value seems to make someone happier than , simply having wishes granted . Sharing similar values to your partner seems important – making yourself a door mat or tyrant in order to get your own eventually leads to unhappinees. But this is a big , big subject .

  9. I have always given top priority to my wife and our 2 daughters.

    Achieving material sucess played a secondary role.

    I am very happy that I set my priorities that way.

    I am happy but not wealthy.

  10. I can agree that structure takes precedence over other things when evaluating the nature of the outcome. I have generally been tempted to go with the outcome, but never works long term.
    most use the argument when I get money, I will … and then I will be happy.
    Happiness is a choice which then attracts structure.

  11. I usually tend to say I am a Mum/wife/sister/daughter first so this article sits well with me – however there are times when work needs to be prioritised to give me an overall feeling of balance and I am not afraid to do this.

  12. I think there are a number of times in your life when you need to stop and re-examine where you are and what makes you happy. Having enough money is important but only up to a point. Being around people who judge the worth of others and themselves in relation to their possessions is a sure way to deep dissatisfaction and unhappiness. It’s amazing how relationships at work, at home, with friends become much more important to your wellbeing than anything. At work it’s great to feel that my opinion is heard and respected, that I’m recognised for making a contribution, I am able to see and deliver opportunities for improvement. Moving ahead I’d like to have more experiences rather than more possessions.

  13. Unfortunately, the society we presently find ourselves in id obsessed with material wealth. Advertising is showing us what we could have instead of what we need. Each individual has their own choices to make and goals to kick and the fulfillment of these will have an impact upon satisfaction. Happiness is achieved by various factors that change throughout our lives and therefore we should constant review what these are.

  14. Interesting. I just believe in owning my decisions. I think that makes a difference. Create each moment as though you chose it.

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