Professor Barry Schwartz Delivers Lecture on Happiness

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Photo by Jiuxing June Xie.

Psychology Professor Barry Schwartz gave a lecture Tuesday entitled “Some of What We Know About Happiness” in Science Center 199, as a part of Gratitude Week. Schwartz discussed evidence from psychology about what makes people happy, and what students can do to make themselves happy.

“Money can buy happiness, but there is very much less bang for the buck than people think,” Schwartz said. Generally, people with more money are significantly happier up to the point of subsistence, but desperately wanting money undermines one’s happiness.

Another significant determinant of happiness is having a fulfilling job or a job that helps others. According to Schwartz, people like just being a part of an institution that they feel is improving other peoples’ lives. He cited as an example that a significant number of custodians at a hospital, despite the fact that their job did not involve different responsibilities than other custodians, enjoyed being a part of something that contributed to society.

Other important factors included close relationships with people, physical, mental and economic security, being married, living in a democracy, and having established social norms. Schwartz acknowledged that assigning causality in many of these cases is difficult, as happier people could, for example, tend to have closer relationships anyway.

Schwartz then explained how students could make themselves happier. Some suggestions included paying more attention to the positive aspects of a given situation, and writing narratives about negative experiences that happen to them. According to Schwartz, the best way to make yourself happier is to lower your expectations. “Chances are pretty good that everyone in this room has expectations that are too high,” Schwartz said.

See Schwartz’s answers to readers’ questions in our Burning Questions column.