ABSTRACT—Hedonic adaptation refers to the process by which individuals return to baseline levels of happiness following a change in life circumstances. Dominant models of subjective well-being (SWB) suggest that people can adapt to almost any life event and that happiness levels fluctuate around a biologically determined set point that rarely changes. Recent evidence from large-scale panel studies challenges aspects of this conclusion. Although inborn factors certainly matter and some adaptation does occur, events such as divorce, death of a spouse, unemployment, and disability are associated with lasting changes in SWB. These recent studies also show that there are considerable individual differences in the extent to which people adapt. Thus, happiness levels do change, and adaptation is not inevitable. KEYWORDS—happiness; subjective well-being; adaptation; set-point theory People’s greatest hopes and fears often center on the possible occurrence of rare but important life events. People may dread the possibility of losing a loved one or becoming disabled, and they may go to great lengths to find true love or to increase their chances of winning the lottery. In many cases, people strive to attain or avoid these outcomes because of the outcomes ’ presumed effect on happiness. But do these major life events really affect long-term levels of subjective well-being (SWB)? Dominant models of SWB suggest that after experiencing major life events, people inevitably adapt. More specifically, set-point theorists posit that inborn personality factors cause an inevitable return to genetically determined happiness set points. However, recent evidence from large-scale longitudinal studies challenges some of the stronger conclusions from these models
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