We’ve all heard it before—make the best of what you have. Turn a bag of lemons into delicious lemonade. Work with the hand you’ve been dealt. The list of sayings is endless but in reality is there any truth behind this message? Can we really take a less than ideal situation and turn into it an ideal one? Research points to YES!
In fact, researchers have been studying what makes people happy for decades. In 1978 a study of lottery winners and paraplegics sought out to uncover the difference in experiences of happiness between the two groups one year after their circumstances changed. So…for a moment please consider how happy you feel today and then imagine how happy you might feel after winning the lottery. It doesn’t take too long to determine a hypothesis, huh? One year after winning the lottery you might expect that you’d be living the good life and thus many would predict that you would be much happier than before you selected those winning numbers. Would you be correct?
Or what if we take a moment to consider the less favorable option? If you pause and compare your level of current happiness and attempt to predict how that level might change if you suddenly became a paraplegic, what are your predictions? One might expect that you would be significantly less happy under these circumstances considering the number of losses that are typically associated with such a life event.
If you went for the less obvious choices, you are correct! The study found that one year after hitting the jackpot, lottery winners are actually just about as happy as they were before they bought the ticket. And while their research did show a slight decrease in level of happiness for those that had become paraplegic, the change was small rather than catastrophic as some of us might have predicted.
Why is this study (and those that have similar findings) so important? The results indicate that at times, we are not the best at predicting our emotional outcomes. People adapt over time. Even after drasticlife altering events occur, often people are able to overcome significant changes. Of course most of us enjoy the occasional daydream about striking it rich so maybe the thought that the winning ticket would change your life isn’t too harmful but in other situations—losing your job, having a bad break-up, not getting that promotion that you always wanted, finding out that you have a medical condition, etc.—perhaps knowing that happiness is likely just around the corner might come in handy.