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If You Believe You’ll Only Be So Happy, You’re Probably Right

·324 words·2 mins
Psyched for the Weekend

In a previous installment of this series, I talked about growth and fixed mindsets (also sometimes known in the scientific literature as incremental and entity mindsets). These theories have been primarily studied in terms of learning and intelligence.

Basically, if individuals have a fixed mindset, they view their own personal ability as a finite resource and as a result become more focused on demonstrating their competence rather than developing it further. A growth mindset, however, views ability as malleable and talent as able to be developed and improved. A person with this outlook also tends to attribute their success to work that they’ve done rather than natural ability.

Having an outlook that abilities are fixed and cannot be improved essentially demotivates individuals from taking steps to develop them.

Powerful stuff. And I recently stumbled across a study that suggests that something similar might be happening with a different attribute. This time it’s happiness.

What Is Happiness Essentialism?

Today’s study looks into something called “happiness essentialism.” Basically, if you have essentialist beliefs surrounding happiness, it means that you view happiness as genetically determined and therefore something fixed, predetermined, and relatively unchangeable.

A phenomenon similar to fixed and growth mindsets was found. Those who viewed happiness as immutable were less motivated and less likely to take steps that were likely to increase happiness.

These individuals valued happiness just as much as other participants and were interested in being happy; they just viewed any actions intended to increase happiness as futile.

(It’s worth noting that this wasn’t a correlational study but an experimental one — the researchers actually manipulated participant beliefs by presenting them with a fictional scientific article that primed them with essentialist beliefs.)


This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.


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