Posted Friday, Sept. 25, 2009, at 1:58 PM
So Emily, not complaining for a while sounds nice and all, but I’ve got a more consumerist happiness strategy in mind. Most straight-out purchases aren’t going to boost subjective wellbeing in the long-term, since (as you know) happiness derived from new stuff diminishes over time. But there are exceptions; according to Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman’s Wellbeing: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology (which I obviously read in my spare time) the increase in self-reported happiness prompted by some purchases endures. Purchases like ... liposuction.
In addition to satisfaction with [cosmetic] surgery itself, several studies have indicated an overall improvement in psychological health or life satisfaction as a whole," write Shane Frederick and George Loewenstein in Kahneman's anthology of happiness papers. The data is not ambiguous. In one study, 73 percent of patients reported a higher quality of life after cosmetic surgery. In another, self-reported patient satisfaction actually increased over a four year time period. In still another, "25 of 71 women were receiving psychiatric treatment prior to a breast augmentation procedure, whereas only three continued to do so after the operation." Women, it seems, do not adapt to their new bodies. It never gets old. Most continue to feel a hedonic boost from breast augmentation, tummy tucks, and nose jobs long after the fact.
The lesson is not that messing around with your glandular organs will automatically make you happy, since presumably one has to have some kind of deep prior insecurity with regard to chest size. But maybe this says something about listening to women when they give specific reasons for their unhappiness. When people say they're made miserable by their bodies, I think we often try to locate the problem elsewhere-they’re in bad relationships, they feel unfulfilled, they’re being too negative. (What, after all, would you say to a friend who claimed that the only thing standing between her and happiness was a facelift?) Findings like these suggest that some women just really do hate specific aspects of their physical beings. And change helps.
Photograph of a woman smiling at her breasts by Stockbyte/Getty.