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Are people happier in California?

Almost everywhere I’ve visited, I’ve encountered the belief that people are happier in California. When pressed as to why, the most common explanation is weather. Since studies have shown that sunlight positively influences mood, perhaps everyone should move to CA – it might make the world a happier place.

Practicality aside, it turns out moving to California probably won’t make someone happier. The problem lies in the word itself. According to Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, there are two different ways of looking at well-being: current mood and overall satisfaction.

Mood and satisfaction can even be contradictory. An event or an object can improve your mood but not increase the satisfaction with your life. For example, buying a new car might lift your spirits for a few weeks but be dampened when the reality of paying the monthly bills sets in.

This is a specific example of what Kahneman calls the “focusing illusion.” We focus on improving our moods at a given moment, significantly overestimating the impact it will have on our future happiness and even ignoring factors which might actually matter.

As Kahneman says in the above video:

Nothing is quite as important as you think it is while you’re thinking about it. So the mere act of thinking about something makes it more important than it’s going to be.

While mood can be improved in the short term, life satisfaction is primarily influenced by goals. A series of experiments showed that people who, at age 18, reported money did not matter to them were happy at age 45 regardless of income level. However, 18-year olds who said money was very important to them reported being “miserable” unless they had high incomes.

This difference between mood and satisfaction explains why moving to California doesn’t necessarily make people happier. The warmer climate will likely lift your mood temporarily but the reality of your life eventually sets in. Wherever you go, there you are.

Following me on twitter (@jbecher) might make you happier.

This blog was originally posted on Manage By Walking Around.

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4 Comments

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    1. Tom Van Doorslaer

      Hypothetically speaking:

      I wouldn’t move to California for the weather (well, not primarily for the weather), but more because of the presence of all those IT-businesses, universities and campuses.

      My life goal (very general) is to make a difference/impact.

      My main area of focus is on Technology.

      California has a very high density of high-impact Technology companies

      Therefore: moving to California would bring me closer to the means to achieve my goal and lift my overall satisfaction.

      [Applying math to existential questions => Win]

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    2. Joao Sousa

      Yes, a fun read but…..

      Does this have anything to do with SAP Business Trends (besides the fact the poster is the CMO)?

      I actually follow Jonathan on Linkedin, but I was looking at the SCN from page and this is one of the most liked posts (the few features of the SCN frontpage that I actually look at).

      What kind of blog posts do we want on SCN?

      Personally I don’t want these ones, I can already read this on LinkedIn.

      PS: Ups, 2012 🙂

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