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The psychology of happiness and feedback

November 9, 2014

I guess we all agree feedback is crucial for our self-awareness, especially for our awareness of our impact on others. As it’s difficult both to receive and to give feedback it remains a challenge for almost everybody. Having some insight into why we either do or don’t hear feedback, how we receive it, and how we respond to it can make us better at receiving feedback. It can also help to not make the feedback bigger or smaller than it was intended and prevent us from developing a distorted sense of self.


Sheila Heen describes three factors contributing to how we respond to feedback:

  1. The baseline or setpoint. Our base-happiness in the absence of other events in our life that influence our happiness. Some people are by default on a high level of happiness, say an 8, others can have a more negative baseline. A negative baseline might result in a reduced ability to hear positive feedback.
  2. Swing describes how far off our baseline we evaluate the feedback. If feedback is very negative, and we have a very positive baseline, then the swing will be very big. A big swing usually means a big impact on our sense of self.
  3. Restore time is the time it takes for us to go back from our level of happiness under the influence of feedback to our baseline. Sensitive people might take longer to restore than unsensitive people.

Next to influencing our restore time, our sensitivity has an effect on the perceived impact of the feedback we give to others. Insensitive people might give more extreme feedback (larger swing) because they don’t think it is a big deal

See Sheila Heen’s short video on the psychology of happiness and feedback:


From → Vulnerability

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