What Does Lasting Happiness Depend On?
Neither Rising Prosperity nor Severe Misfortune Permanently Affect Happiness
- Research implies that neither rising prosperity nor severe misfortune permanently affect happiness. After a period of adjustment, individuals return to their baseline levels of well-being, leaving humanity on a ‘‘hedonic treadmill’’ (Brickman & Campbell, 1981; Diener, Suh, Lucas, & Smith, 1999; Kahneman, Krueger, Schkade, Schwartz, & Stone, 2004). Similarly, as entire countries become richer, relative gains and losses neutralize each other across populations, bringing no overall increase in the happiness of their citizens (Easterlin, 1974; Kenny, 2004).
Neither Individual Efforts nor Social Policy Can Bring Lasting Changes in Happiness
- Insofar as this set point is biologically determined, neither individual efforts nor social policy can bring lasting changes in happiness.
Happiness Depends on Popularly Accepted Social Norms
- Another explanation for the apparent stability of the aggregate happiness of nations is social comparison theory (Easterlin, 1974, 2003). According to this account, happiness stays the same in the face of rising income because of a shift in reference. If happiness is shaped by one’s relative position in a society, then even if a nation’s overall economy grows, only those with above-average gains will experience rising happiness, and these increases will be offset by decreases among those with below-average gains.
–Ronald Inglehart, Roberto Foa, Christopher Peterson, and Christian Welzel, “Development, Freedom, and Rising Happiness A Global Perspective” (1981–2007).
The Functions of Happiness and Dissatisfaction
Happiness Is Functional and Generally Leads to Success
- Recent research indicates that happiness is functional and generally leads to success.
All Organisms are Motivated to Approach Things that Bring Pleasure and Avoid Pain
- People consider happiness and pleasantness to be conceptually similar, and indeed, they usually experience these two emotions together (Schimmack, 2006). It simply feels good to be happy, and all organisms are motivated to approach things that bring pleasure and to avoid things that bring pain.
Happiness = The Most Important Human Attribute
- In a recent large international survey led by Ed Diener and with over 10,000 respondents from 48 nations (Diener & Oishi, 2006), the average importance rating of happiness was the highest of the 12 possible attributes, with a mean of 8.03 on a 1 to 9 scale (compared with 7.54 for ‘‘success,’’ 7.39 for ‘‘intelligence/knowledge,’’ and 6.84 for ‘‘material wealth’’).
Being Happy = Better Job Performance, Higher Income, More Likely to Marry, Longer Life
- On the basis of this theory, researchers have begun to systematically examine the consequences of happiness beyond simply feeling good. Lyubomirsky, King, and Diener (2005) conducted a meta-analysis of 225 papers on diverse life outcomes in the domains of work, love, and health and found that, in all three domains,
- Happy people did better on average than did unhappy people. For instance, happy people receive higher job performance assessments from their supervisors (Cropanzano & Wright, 1999) and have more prestigious jobs (Roberts, Caspi,& Moffitt, 2003).
- In addition, happy people earn higher incomes than do unhappy people, even many years after the initial assessment (Diener, Nickerson, Lucas, & Sandvik, 2002).
- Happy people are more likely to get married than are their unhappy counterparts (Lucas, Clark, Georgellis, & Diener, 2003), and they are also more satisfied with their marriages (Ruvolo, 1998).
- Psychologists even live longer if they express more positive emotions and humor in their autobiographies (Pressman, Cohen, & Kollnesher, 2006).
Dissatisfaction = Impetus to Make Change in Your Life
- It is possible to find examples where unpleasant states motivate beneficial action. Consider the work domain. Job dissatisfaction can be thought of as a signal that the work environment does not fit one’s personality and skills. Thus, job dissatisfaction might motivate job change. In fact, a longitudinal study in Switzerland showed that work dissatisfaction predicted job turnover (Semmer, Tschan, Elfering, Kalin, & Grebner, in press) and that those who changed jobs experienced a subsequent increase in job satisfaction in their new job. This study suggests that individuals who are dissatisfied but make efforts to change their life circumstances can improve their satisfaction. Conversely, individuals who consistently experience positive affect and never experience dissatisfaction might be less likely to make a change to improve their life circumstances. Thus, a very high level of satisfaction might lead individuals to fail to attain their full potential.
- Although positive moods induced in the laboratory are generally associated with more creativity and better cognitive performance (see Fredrickson, 2001; Isen, 1999, for review), in some circumstances, positive moods are associated with inferior cognitive performance. For instance, in a syllogism task, participants in a positive mood condition performed significantly worse than did participants in the control condition (Melton, 1995). Participants in a positive mood condition also performed more poorly at a moral reasoning task than did those in neutral or sad mood conditions (Zarinpoush, Cooper, & Moylan, 2000). Similarly, participants in a positive mood condition performed worse than did participants in control or negative mood conditions in an estimation of correlation task (Sinclair & Marks, 1995). Finally, participants in a positive mood condition were repeatedly shown to use stereotypes in a person-perception task more frequently than did those in a neutral mood condition (e.g., Bodenhausen, Kramer, & Susser, 1994).
- Thus, these studies suggest that people who experience appropriate amounts of negative affect can adopt their cognitive strategy to the task at hand.
- Moreover, the literature summarized above suggests that the relation between happiness and various life outcomes may be nonlinear; that is, happier is not always better.
- Successful individuals are characterized as those who have loving relationships and contribute to society via their work and civic engagements.
–Shigehiro Oishi, Ed Diener and Richard E. Lucas, “The Optimum Level of Well-Being: Can People Be Too Happy?” Perspectives on Psychological Science.
What Affects Happiness the Most?
The Factor Most Affecting Happiness = Social Connections
The factor most affecting happiness – social connections. In 2008, at the request of the British government and financed by the British Ministry of Science, (New Economic Foundation – NEF), in cooperation with the University of Cambridge, a comprehensive project was carried out, summarizing and comparing studies, identifying which factors affect the citizens’ happiness. The most influential factor is social connections. Out of the 5 recommendations suggested, 2 of them are directly connected to social relationships.
–Jody Aked, Nic Marks, Corrina Cordon, Sam Thompson, “Five Ways to Well-Being.” The New Economics Foundation.
Social Factors = More Important Factor for Happiness than Income
Happier countries tend to be richer countries. But more important for happiness than income are social factors like the strength of social support, the absence of corruption and the degree of personal freedom.
— “First World Happiness Report Launched at the United Nations.” The Earth Institute: Columbia University.
Problem: We Often Do Not Recognize the Importance of Social Connection as a Leading Factor for Happiness in Our Lives
Studies indicate that “social capital” (connections within and between social networks) is one of the biggest predictors for health, happiness, and longevity. The problem is that we often do not recognize the importance of social connection. Our culture values hard work, success, and wealth. We do not set aside enough time for social ties because we think security lies in material things rather than other people. The truth of the matter is that people have better survival rates for diseases when they have social support. If you don’t belong to a group and you join one now, you’ll cut your chance of dying in half for the next year.
–Cecile Andrews, “Social Ties are Good for Your Health.” Stanford University.
What Do You Think?
- In a society with competitive individualistic values of individuals working to gain in wealth and prosperity against other individuals, how does this affect the level of happiness?
- Why do you think happier people generally have better job performance, higher income, are more likely to marry, and live longer?
- How can dissatisfaction with a certain life situation be used advantageously to make a change in your life? What kind of change would be the optimal one?
- As more and more research finds that social connections are the most important factor affecting people’s happiness, what is something you can see in your life that correlates to this idea, that social connections are what affects happiness the most?
Please write your answers in the comments below!