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Don't Worry: Happiness Levels Not Set in Stone

05 Oct 2010 | Fox News

"Don't worry, be happy" may be more than just a wishful mantra. A new study finds that people's happiness levels can change substantially over their lifetimes, suggesting that happiness isn't predetermined by genes or personality.

Psychologists have long argued that people have a "set point" for happiness. Regardless of what life brings, the set-point theory goes, happiness levels tend to be stable. A big life event could create a boost of joy or a crush of sorrow, but within a few years, people return to a predetermined level of life satisfaction, according to the theory.

The new study, which used a nationally representative sample of almost 150,000 German adults, finds the opposite. People's long-term life satisfaction can change, the researchers report today (Oct. 4) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In fact, a substantial number of people followed over 25 years saw their happiness levels shift by one-third or more.

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