Philosophical school of thought that negative experience levels are
set for an individual?
Unlikely to be a philosophical school. This question is for an empirical science as psychology to solve not to philosophy. But it has implications for the "philosophy of happiness", as we shall see.
Regarding happiness, what philosophers can observe before the empirical science is what is dictated by the common sense that happiness isn't pleasure. Pursuit of happiness is not to seek pleasure. Pleasure is satiable but not happiness. If, for whatever reason, one does equate happiness with pleasure, then the paradox of hedonism arises.
The philosopher Henry Sidgwick was first to note the paradox of
hedonism. The paradox is that pleasure cannot be acquired directly, it
can only be acquired indirectly. If for example you heard that
collecting stamps was very pleasurable, and began a stamp collection
as a means towards this happiness, it would inevitably be in vain. To
achieve happiness, you must not seek happiness directly, you must
motivate yourself towards things unrelated to happiness, like the
collection of stamps. The hedonistic paradox mean that if one sets the
goal to please oneself too highly then the mechanism would in fact jam
John Stuart Mill: One's happiness was only to be attained by not
making it the direct end. Those only are happy (I thought) who have
their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness.
Viktor Frankl: Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only
does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to
a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender
to a person other than oneself.
Nietzsche: One does not strive for
joy [...] joy accompanies
Is there a certain size of "space that must be filled" with negative
Although not a topic that is the result of philosophy, the empirical study of happiness can have some consequence for philosophers who like generalizations about the human condition. There may be implications for the philosophical issues of free will, meaning of life, and the ethics of utilitarianism, but these are issues that are beyond the scope of the question. "Space must not be filled" with negative experience. The set point of happiness is more due to genetic characteristics of psychological adaptability to positive and negative events than objective occurrence of events. In general terms the feeling of well-being has a majority of genetic influence and not a decisive influence of the environment:
Happiness seems to be more like a thermostat, since our
temperaments tend to bring us back towards a certain happiness level
(a tendency influenced by carefully chosen activities and habits).
From the empirical point of view, what can be said is that there is
the hedonic adaptation, is the supposed tendency of humans to quickly
return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major
positive or negative events or life changes. According to this theory,
as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem,
which results in no permanent gain in happiness. Humans generally maintain a constant
level of happiness throughout their lives—despite events that occur in
their environment, as much bad as good. The focus of positive
psychology is to determine how to maintain or raise the hedonic set
Many years of research, however, have proven that a detail of the
hedonic theory to be simply untrue. There isn't a neutral set point
return after a significantly emotional life event. People are not
hedonically neutral, and that individuals have different set points
which are, in part, determined by their temperament. For the most
part, people generally tend to maintain a happy mood the majority of
the time. Individuals may have more than one happiness set point, such
as a life satisfaction set point and a subjective well being set
point, and that one's level of happiness is not just one given set
point but can vary within a given range. Some individuals do
experience substantial changes to their hedonic set point over time,
though most others do not.
Unlike the happiness set point, which can be relatively stable
throughout the course of an individual’s life, the life satisfaction
and subjective well being set points are a tad more complicated. For
most people, life satisfaction baseline is similar to their happiness baseline.
Their life satisfaction will hover around a set point for the majority
of their lives and not dramatically change. For about a quarter of the
population though, this set point is not stable, and does indeed move.
As for the subjective well being set point, long term data show that
subjective well being set points do change over time, and that
adaptation is not necessarily inevitable. Also, it is possible for
someone’s subjective well-being set point to drastically change, in
such cases as those individuals who acquire a severe, long term
disability. However the amount of fluctuation a person does around
their set point is largely dependent on that individual’s ability to
adapt. After following over a thousand sets of twins for 10 years,
study concluded that almost 50% of our happiness levels are determined
by genetics. Our position on the spectrum of the stable personality
traits (neuroticism, extraversion, and openness to experience) is
responsible for how to experience and perceive life events, indirectly
also being responsible for our happiness levels.
Evolutionary theory explains that humans evolved through natural
selection and follow genetic imperatives that seek to maximize
reproduction, not happiness.