Science Pursues Happiness: Happiness Pays off, Studies Show. (Society)

By Coles, Clifton | The Futurist, July-August 2002 | Go to article overview

Science Pursues Happiness: Happiness Pays off, Studies Show. (Society)


Coles, Clifton, The Futurist


Psychologists seeking the real secrets of happiness report that very happy people tend to be more extroverted and agreeable than less happy people.

"Our findings suggest that very happy people have rich and satisfying social relationships and spend little time alone relative to average people," write psychologists Ed Diener and Martin E.P. Seligman in the journal Psychological Science.

Solid social relationships do not guarantee happiness, but they are a significant contributing factor. The very happy people whom the authors studied all said they had good-quality social relationships. However, the authors write, there is no single key to high happiness. "High happiness seems to be like beautiful symphonic music--necessitating many instruments, without any one being sufficient for the beautiful quality."

Diener defines happiness as "subjective well-being"--in other words, the person evaluates his or her own quality of life. The question to ask is, "Is my life going well, according to the standards I choose to use?" If the answer is "yes," then that person is judged to be happy

Because people evaluate their lives based on happiness, subjective wellbeing is very important. Though necessary, it is not sufficient for having a good life. Subjective well-being "seems absolutely necessary for the 'good society,' although it is not sufficient for that society because there are other things we also value and would want in such a place," says Dienor.

Can subjective well-being--manifestly personal--be measured scientifically? Diener identifies three components contributing to happiness: pleasant emotions and moods, lack of negative emotions and moods, and satisfaction judgments, to which other factors--including optimism and feelings of fulfillment--may be added.

Happiness is not a constant. Happy people are sometimes unhappy, and vice versa. The very happy people identified by the study never reported their mood as "ecstatic," though they did report mood ratings nearly as high. …

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