How to make people happy or sad

Two simple but rigorous (here at we’re all about statistical rigour) experiments have shown you can reduce or increase happiness by a measurable 20%.

Making someone sad:  The brilliant Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky

(Kahneman’s books provide brilliant insights into our predictable biases and how you can influence decisions)

They assembled a large group of students ready to be asked questions about happiness.  They asked every group to rate their own happiness on a scale of 1-10.  They asked each group a different question immediately BEFORE the question asking them to rate their own happiness.  Several questions reduced the reported level of happiness (e.g. ‘how much debt do you have?’, ‘how well prepared are you for exams?’).  But the question that led to the full 20% reduction in reported happiness was….

….’when did you last have a date?’

How do I use this tomorrow?

Think carefully about the questions you ask and the way you sequence questions in a conversation or meeting – if you want to convince someone of the need for your idea, ask questions to raise their discomfort with the current situation rather than just launching into a pitch of your idea.

Make someone happy:  Gratitude experiment, drawing from work by Martin Seligman (soul pancake)

They asked a group of people questions about their own happiness to give an overall score.  Then they asked them to think of the person they were grateful to have had in their life.  Then they asked them to write a letter describing that gratitude.  Then they got them to call the person and read the words out.  Finally they repeated the test of happiness, disguising the questions.

The people who couldn’t get through on the call were happier, but a much bigger increase was reported by those who got through on the call to say the words.

How can I use this tomorrow?

Firstly simply find more opportunities to express gratitude at work and home.

Secondly Seligman’s research showed the simplest thing you can do to make yourself happy over the long term by:

  • every morning or evening thinking about three things that went well in the last 24 hours
  • for each, ask yourself WHY they went well.

Recognising opportunity from adversity