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Posts Tagged ‘happiness

Can People Be Too Happy?

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Could the pursuit of happiness go too far? Most self-help books on the subject offer tips on how to maximize one’s bliss, but a new study suggests that moderate happiness may be preferable to full-fledged elation.

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The researchers, from the University of Virginia, the University of Illinois and Michigan State University, looked at data from the World Values Survey, a large-scale analysis of economic, social, political and religious influences around the world. They also analyzed the behaviors and attitudes of 193 undergraduate students at Illinois.

Their findings challenge the common assumption that all measures of well-being go up as happiness increases. While many indicators of success and well-being do correspond to higher levels of happiness, the researchers report, those at the uppermost end of the happiness scale (people who report that they are 10s on a 10-point life satisfaction score) are in some measures worse off than their slightly less elated counterparts.

To put the findings in perspective, it is important to note that happiness generally correlates with all kinds of positive measures, said Illinois psychology professor Ed Diener, an author of the study. In general, the happier you are the more successful you are in terms of money, employment and relationships.

“Happy people are more likely (than unhappy people) to get married, are more likely to stay married, are more likely to think their marriage is good,” Diener said. “They’re more likely to volunteer. They’re more likely to be rated highly by their supervisor and they’re more likely to make more money.”

Happy people are also, on average, healthier than unhappy people and they live longer, Diener said. And, he said, some research indicates that happiness is a cause of these sources of good fortune, not just a result.

“But there is a caveat, and that is to say: Do you then have to be happier and happier” How happy is happy enough?”

The research team began with the prediction that mildly happy people (those who classify themselves as eights and nines on the 10-point life satisfaction scale) may be more successful in some realms than those who consider themselves 10s. This prediction was based on the idea that profoundly happy people may be less inclined to alter their behavior or adjust to external changes even when such flexibility offers an advantage.

Their analysis of World Values Survey data affirmed that prediction.

“The highest levels of income, education and political participation were reported not by the most satisfied individuals (10 on the 10-point scale),” the authors wrote, “but by moderately satisfied individuals (8 or 9 on the 10-point scale).”

The 10s earned significantly less money than the eights and nines. Their educational achievements and political engagement were also significantly lower than their moderately happy and happy-but-not-blissful counterparts.

In the more social realms, however, the 10s were the most successful, engaging more often in volunteer activities and maintaining more stable relationships.

The student study revealed a similar pattern in measures of academic and social success. In this analysis, students were categorized as unhappy, slightly happy, moderately happy, happy or very happy. Success in the categories related to academic achievement (grade-point average, class attendance) and conscientiousness increased as happiness increased, but dropped a bit for the individuals classified as very happy. In other words, the happy group outperformed even the very happy in grade-point average, attendance and conscientiousness.

Those classified as very happy scored significantly higher on things like gregariousness, close friendships, self-confidence, energy and time spent dating.

The data indicate that happiness may need to be moderated for success in some areas of life, such as income, conscientiousness and career, Diener said.

“The people in our study who are the most successful in terms of things like income are mildly happy most of the time,” he said.

In an upcoming book on the science of well-being, Diener notes that being elated all the time is not always good for one’s success — or even for one’s health. Reviews of studies linking health and emotions show that for people who have been diagnosed with serious illnesses, being extremely happy doesn’t always improve survival rates, Diener said. This may be because the elated don’t worry enough about issues that can have profound implications for their ability to survive their illness, he said.

“Happy people tend to be optimistic and this might lead them to take their symptoms too lightly, seek treatment too slowly, or follow their physician’s orders in a half-hearted way,” he writes.

All in all, Diener said, the evidence indicates that happiness is a worthy goal for those who lack it, but the endless pursuit of even more happiness for the already happy may be counterproductive.

“If you’re worried about success in life, don’t be a 1, 2, 3 or 4 (on the 10-point scale),” Diener said. “If you are unhappy or only slightly happy, you may need to seek help or read those self-help books or do something to make yourself happier. But if you’re a 7 or 8, maybe you’re happy enough!”

Perspectives on Psychological Science December 2007 (Volume 2, Issue 4)

The Optimum Level of Well-Being: Can People Be Too Happy?

Shigehiro Oishi, Ed Diener, and Richard E. Lucas

Psychologists, self-help gurus, and parents all work to make their clients, friends, and children happier. Recent research indicates that happiness is functional and generally leads to success. However, most people are already above neutral in happiness, which raises the question of whether higher levels of happiness facilitate more effective functioning than do lower levels. Our analyses of large survey data and longitudinal data show that people who experience the highest levels of happiness are the most successful in terms of close relationships and volunteer work, but that those who experience slightly lower levels of happiness are the most successful in terms of income, education, and political participation. Once people are moderately happy, the most effective level of happiness appears to depend on the specific outcomes used to define success, as well as the resources that are available.

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Written by huehueteotl

January 29, 2008 at 12:02 pm

What’s The Rush? Taking Time To Acknowledge Loss Is Not That Bad

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Knowledge is life with wings.
(Extract from one of Gibran’s letters dated 15th November 1917)

There are two guarantees in every person’s life: happiness and sadness. Although lost opportunities and mistaken expectations are often unpleasant to think and talk about, these experiences may impact personality development and overall happiness. A seven-year study conducted by Laura King, a researcher at the University of Missouri, indicates that individuals who take time to stop and think about their losses are more likely to mature and achieve a potentially more durable sense of happiness.
“People are generally in a hurry to be happy again, but they need to understand that it’s okay to feel bad and to feel bad for a while,” said King, who teaches psychology in the College of Arts and Science. “It’s natural to want to feel happy right after a loss or regrettable experience, but those who can examine ‘what might have been’ and be mindfully present to their negative feelings, are more likely to mature through that loss and might also obtain a different kind of happiness.”Drawing on samples of adults who have experienced significant life changing events, including parents of children with Down syndrome, women who have experienced divorce after marriages of more than 20 years, and gay men and lesbians, King examined the participants’ written accounts of their current best possible selves and unattainable best possible selves that they may have once cherished. Answering questions like, “How great would your life have been if only…,” King found that those who could acknowledge a past characterized by loss were more likely to show personality development over time.Additionally, the study – Whatever Happened to “What Might Have Been?” – found that those who might consider themselves complacent or happy but simple tend to diminish regret by focusing on goals that are still available. One participant said, “All of these goals are still attainable, even though we have a child with Down syndrome.” In contrast, those who scored high on both well-being and personality development were able to acknowledge a challenging life experience, as one gay man who wrote vividly about the difficulties of a gay person in a homophobic society, while maintaining his commitment to his current life dreams.

“People change after potentially tragic events; it is unrealistic to think that you can go right back to the way you were before the event,” King said. “It might be best to try and make meaning out of what has happen and start a new life that is tied to what you have learned from the change. Being happy is not about forgetting the past, but forming a life that is founded on what you had before, or who you used to be.”

Am Psychol. 2007 Oct;62(7):625-36.
Whatever happened to “What might have been”? Regrets, happiness, and maturity.

Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri-Columbia, MO 65201, USA. kingla@missouri.edu

Although lost opportunities and mistaken expectations are unpleasant to think and talk about, these experiences may have a role to play in personality development. Drawing on research using narratives of lost possible selves, the authors review the relations of regrettable experiences to 2 important and independent aspects of maturity, happiness and complexity. Thinking about a lost possible self is related to concurrent regrets, distress, and lowered well-being; however, elaborating on a lost possible self is related, concurrently, to complexity and predicts complexity, prospectively, over time. In this article, the authors describe the role that regrettable experiences have in promoting both happiness and complexity. Finally, expanding on previous work, the authors examine potential affordances of happy maturity and suggest psychological capacities that may promote happy maturity. Copyright 2007 APA, all rights reserved.

Written by huehueteotl

December 23, 2007 at 2:03 pm