Wired against pleasure

The human psyche is skewed to the negative, according to happiness experts.

“People prefer tragedy,” says Dr Stefan Klein, author of The Science of Happiness. Show people happy and sad pictures and their brains will respond more strongly to the latter. “In every newspaper bad news yields larger headlines than good news. Losses inflict hurt more than equivalent gains bring joy.”

Happiness is not simply the absence of unhappiness, research shows. Brain scans have recently revealed happiness has its own separate circuitry, concentrated in the left-hand side of the prefrontal cortex, while unhappiness is predominantly associated with activity in the right part of the brain.

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Happiness is enjoying a boom.

And not just among hedonists, and people forced to confront their mortality. Economists, scientists, psychologists and publishers can’t get enough of the stuff. It is being prodded, measured, weighed, defined and deconstructed; the world is groaning under a mountain of academic papers and books on the subject.

Some believe the new findings on what makes people happy call for a revolution in how governments can help citizens flourish. Faster economic growth, they argue, should no longer be the most important objective for society.

Money can make people happy, but not as much as you think.

Where average income per person is low – less than about $20,000 a year – extra money does make people happier. Above that, happiness seems to be independent of income. The average American, for example, is much richer than the average Icelander or Dane, but also less happy.