Moving to California Won’t Make You Happy

Are people happier in California?

Almost everywhere I’ve visited, I’ve encountered the belief that people are happier in California. When pressed as to why, the most common explanation is weather.  Since studies have shown that sunlight positively influences mood, perhaps everyone should move to CA – it might make the world a happier place.

Practicality aside, it turns out moving to California probably won’t make someone happier.  The problem lies in the word itself.  According to Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, there are two different ways of looking at well-being: current mood and overall satisfaction.

Mood and satisfaction can even be contradictory. An event or an object can improve your mood but not increase the satisfaction with your life.  For example, buying a new car might lift your spirits for a few weeks but be dampened when the reality of paying the monthly bills sets in.

This is a specific example of what Kahneman calls the “focusing illusion.” We focus on improving our moods at a given moment, significantly overestimating the impact it will have on our future happiness and even ignoring factors which might actually matter.

As Kahneman says in the above video:

Nothing is quite as important as you think it is while you’re thinking about it. So the mere act of thinking about something makes it more important than it’s going to be.

While mood can be improved in the short term, life satisfaction is primarily influenced by goals. A series of experiments showed that people who, at age 18, reported money did not matter to them were happy at age 45 regardless of income level.  However, 18-year olds who said money was very important to them reported being “miserable” unless they had high incomes.

This difference between mood and satisfaction explains why moving to California doesn’t necessarily make people happier.  The warmer climate will likely lift your mood temporarily but the reality of your life eventually sets in. Wherever you go, there you are.

10 Responses to Moving to California Won’t Make You Happy

  1. liv4music says:

    …unless of course, most of the activities you engage in, which contribute in large part, to your overall well-being, depend upon good, consistent weather. This is true for me. Additionally, if you’re in a good mood when you approach a potentially undesirable task, mood-congruent memory could factor in. Independent of how miserable the task of say, doing school work, was in the past, if your current mood, lets say happy, will influence how you reflect upon your previous encounters with the same task, which is the definition of mood-congruent memory, then weather that makes you happy, will cause you to perceive more favorably what you have to do, thus making your well-being better.

  2. Robert says:

    I am much happier since moving to California, but then I didn’t move for the weather; I moved for the adventure. Whether or not a destination is a good fit has more to do with the “there you are” and what you make of it, rather than wherever you go.
    To paraphrase a popular show tune:
    “Through thick or through thin, all out or all in
    And whether I win, place or show.
    I’ll muddle through whatever I do, wherever I go.”

  3. Anonymous says:

    As a native Californian, I confess that CA feel blessed in regards to the great weather and opportunities, but you are so right that it is more than that happiness is largely a choice. And a choice that often fail to make.

    Jonathan, your posts are often excellent, but this one is particularly good. Cheers.

  4. Well, that and being taxed to death perhaps? 🙂

  5. Jonathan, great post. Another worthwhile read on the topic is Shawn Achor, “The Happiness Advantage.” Did you know that research shows that if you write down 10 things you are grateful for, without repeating items, for 30 days straight that you can rewire your brain to be more happy?

  6. ognixdorf says:

    Reminds me of that old line, “Wherever you go, you’re still there,” maybe it was a country western song. Liked your post, as it perfectly capsulized the “current mood” versus “life satisfaction” conundrum clearly. Most of us, myself included, probably don’t weigh the back-end of that quandary enough. And, I’ve lived in California…I was happy and I was sad. Guess the solution is to live wherever is best long term and buy a sunlamp. Thanks for the post.
    Mike Hensgen

  7. Noise Null says:

    Moving to California may not make you happier, but it certainly makes you better.

    Just Kidding. Great Piece.

  8. Mithun.De says:

    Reblogged this on The City Boy and commented:
    People are happier in California?

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