thinking_your_way_to_happiness.jpgWinners and losers exist in every situation. Everyone wants to be happy, but sometimes life just doesn't give you everything you want. A new study published in the Psychological Science journal shows you might not have to worry, however, because even losers can be happy--it's just that the brain takes longer to work its way there. 

To test their theory, the researchers from Carnegie Mellon, Harvard University, and the University of Virginia went around Boston and randomly asked 297 people to scratch off one side of a lottery ticket to get a $1, $3, $5, or $7 prize. Each ticket had two sides, and participants were asked to scratch off the other side afterward to see the prize they missed.

After asking the participants to fill in questionnaires, the researchers found out that those who won the bigger pot money (winners) were happier than those who failed to get the larger amount (losers) regardless of how much they won. Meanwhile, the losers were also happy, but those who won bigger prizes reported higher levels of joy.

The researchers figured this meant that losers had to think more to achieve happiness. In a follow-up experiment, they asked 31 participants to memorize either a long or short number before choosing from two boxes with cash prizes on a screen. Afterward, the researchers had both boxes opened. Unknown to the participants, the experiment was designed so that no matter what box they chose, they would get the lower amount, which would technically make them all "losers." The participants received either $3 or $5 at random.

The results duplicated the researchers' first experiment. Losers were happier when they received more money. The only difference was that if they'd been assigned a long number to memorize, the amount of happiness they got from getting either amount didn't change. This implies that if people don't have enough mental power to focus on rationalizing, they are less capable of thinking themselves into being happier.

"When you win something, it's always a positive experience," lead author Karim S. Kassam, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon, is quoted as saying. "But if there's this tinge of negative effect, that motivates people to rationalize, to re-frame things in a way that will make them happy."

So the next time you feel like you got the short end of the stick, remember that you can think your way out of it eventually. Happiness is relative, and the less comparisons you make of your achievements with others, the easier it will be for you to be content.


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(Photo by Jorrit/Mars via Flickr Creative Commons)

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