Happy people are generally happy, no matter what. Unhappy people are generally unhappy no matter what. Whether genetics or childhood environment, it seems to be pretty set by the time you hit your mid-20s.
It’s like we have a thermostat that gets set to a particular number. You might have something that changes the temperature suddenly, but the system will try to get it back to that setpoint. Hotter or colder, the house returns to the setpoint on the thermostat.
Something similar seems to happen to us about our happiness. Well, not happiness so much as our satisfaction with life. That’s a richer description than simple happiness. It’s all the things that make our lives feel rich.
We may have something great happen to us (win the lottery) or perhaps something terrible (death of a child) but after time we have a tendency to return to our previous level of life satisfaction.
You’ve seen this: an unhappy friend who has some great thing happen and a few days later seems down again. Or a happy friend who suffers a setback, only to go back to being happy awhile later.
It’s like we have an internal set point for happiness and no matter what we just oscillate around it.
Except when you get unemployed.
Researchers were able to track life satisfaction among German workers, before and after unemployment. What they found was that long-term unemployment lowered the life satisfaction setpoint for these workers. Not surprising: unemployment is a major bummer. What was surprising is that after they got jobs again they didn’t bounce back to the same setpoint.
Unemployment permanently moves their life satisfaction setpoint down.
Unlike other life events, even some terrible ones, people weren’t recovering from “unemployment what was “long-term” (a few months). Instead, it permanently altered them.
This happened for each bout of long-term unemployment. Each time, the set point got lowered down from where it was, then didn’t quite bounce back afterwards. Their life-satisfaction setpoints going lower.
At some point, life will lose all flavor and they will be shells.
It’s interesting how people who have never gone through unemployment have so many keen judgments about what is going on inside these people. They are quite sure that it is only these workers’ lack of “internal fortitude” or lack of true godliness or whatever. All they know is that they certainly would not react to unemployment like this.
Except that they do when it happens.
There are some interesting variables. It’s much less pronounced where unemployment is more common, because you just don’t get as down when everyone else is also unemployed: misery loves company in part because it makes it less miserable.
Men seem to suffer this more than women.
Money does not seem to be the issue. Which is really strange because financial concern is one of the main drivers of unhappiness at the bottom end of society. Down at near the poverty line, money buys happiness. A lot of happiness. But for the unemployed at the middle or top, this was a surprising small variable.
A note on our society’s current concerns
Now imagine a whole subset of society that has been seeing this. They aren’t just angry about losing money. They are angry about losing themselves. And because they no longer find life satisfying, and do not feel like it ever will be again, they are more than willing to burn it all down to make “those smug bast**ds” feel the helplessness and horror that they have felt. The more the “elite” talk about how this or that person that these angry men support will destroy everything, the happier they get.
And they have guns. A lot of guns. And they’re getting to the point where they don’t see any downside to blowing up society.
Now you know the rest of the story.