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Archive for November, 2007

As humans, we often enjoy comparing ourselves to others. “I wish I had his job” or “I wonder how many square feet their house is.” Probably a day doesn’t go by that we don’t compare ourselves in some way to another person or group of people. It’s how we measure ourselves, especially in the workplace.

But are we happier for it? The research suggests otherwise. Several studies strongly point to the fact that happy people are less sensitive to feedback about other people’s performances.

For example, happy students did not change their judgments of how good they were at a particular task even in the presence of someone who did the task better, but unhappy participants did diminish their own skills.

In another study, happy students reported more positive emotions when told that their performance was excellent (even when a peer had done even better) than when told that their performance was poor (even when a peer had done even worse). Unhappy people — on the other hand — reported more positive emotions after receiving a negative expert evaluation (accompanied by news that a peer had done even worse) than after receiving a positive expert evaluation (accompanied by news that a peer had done even better).

Source: The Promise of Sustainable Happiness by Julia K. Boehm and Sonja Lyubomirsky

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We all know the “type” — very happy people. They just seem to have life by the tail. Can we learn from them? Are there similar characteristics that very happy people seem to share? What do they possess that the rest of us do not?

Several years ago, two researchers sought answers to those questions by conducting a study of 222 undergraduate college students. Using a variety of screening techniques, Ed Diener and Martin E.P. Seligman isolated 10% of the students who appeared to have the highest scores in terms of happiness.

What did they discover?

The very happy group spent the least time alone and the most time socializing, and was rated highest on good relationships by themselves and by informants. The very happy group was also more extraverted, had lower neuroticism scores, and had higher agreeableness scores compared to unhappy or students with average happiness scores.

Two other important findings from the study — very happy people never reported their mood as being “ecstatic” (although they frequently reported their mood as a 7 or 8 and a 9 on a scale of 10). They also weren’t always happy. All members of the very happy group at least occasionally reported unhappiness or neutral moods, according to Diener and Seligman.

What’s not known is whether rich, social relationships caused happiness or if happiness caused rich, social relationships or if both were caused by some third variable. What is known — very happy people have some component of social relationships as part of their happiness “mix” and the link appears pretty strong.

Note: This study can be found in Psychological Science, Vol. 13, No. 1, January 2002

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Is there a single “key” or “secret” that unlocks the door to happiness?

Philosophers, artists, religious leaders and numerous authors of self-help books would like you to believe there is one key. In fact, they might even tell you they have that key or secret — that if you were to just follow their advice, then you will be happy.

There’s only one problem. The evidence strongly suggests just the opposite.

As science continues to probe more deeply into the origins, causations and linkages associated with what researchers call “subjective well-being,” one point becomes clear — the road to happiness consists a dizzying network of major highways, busy byways, underutilized side roads and highly individualized vehicles of transportation.

In other words, no magic elixir exists.

Many things contribute to our happiness. In fact, genetics, personality, brain chemistry, environmental conditions and a host of other factors all combine to create a unique happiness “signature.” That’s the true secret. Follow your own path, not the path of others.

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Here’s a counterintuitive thought — if you want to be happier, lower your expectations and aspirations.

That’s right. Don’t shoot for the moon. Set your sights instead on orbiting the Earth.

This advice runs smack in the face of the prevailing attitude in the U.S., which often begins in grade school. You probably heard this familiar refrain when you were growing up: “You can be anything you want to be if you put your mind to it. You can even be President of the United States!”

In the 231 year-old history of the United States, there have only been 43 Presidents. In other words — long odds.

Our dreams and fantasies can fuel positive and productive behavior. They can add tremendous value to individuals, groups and companies when the pursuit of seemingly unreachable goals results in dramatic changes, improvements and innovations.

But they won’t necessarily make you happier. High or unrealistic expectations can lead to disappointments, both in yourself and others. Add too many disappointments to life’s “plate” and you may find yourself profoundly unhappy, regardless of your accomplishments.

Happiness comes from the journey, not the destination. Try enjoying the ride more and setting modest goals or aspirations. See if that doesn’t improve your overall happiness.

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If you want to achieve greater satisfaction or happiness, increase your resources.

For most people, that means increasing one’s income. Having more money will probably (but not always) improve your chances of being satisfied. The same can be said for finding a life partner.

But there are other resources of equal or greater value.

For example, relaxation is a significant satisfaction resource. Being relaxed usually lowers your blood pressure, which lowers your risk of a heart attack and helps you live longer. Relaxation also helps you perform better under stressful conditions, including making better decisions at work. And being relaxed means you will more likely enjoy life more. Life’s daily irritants have less potency when you enjoy a more relaxed state of mind.

Relaxation has proven to be a major satisfaction and happiness resource and the great thing about it is — it can be learned by any person at any age.

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Want to be happily married? If you are seeking a spouse — take note. Find someone with a similar personality.

That’s the conclusion reached by researchers at the University of Iowa, who studied 291 newlyweds participating in the Iowa Marital Assessment Project.

The couples were evaluated on a broad range of personality characteristics, attitudes and relationship-quality indicators. They also had to have been married less than a year when the study began and had to have been dating each other for an average of three and a half years.

The results of the study showed that people tend to marry those who are similar in attitudes, religion and values. However, it was a similarity in personality that appeared to be more important in having a happy marriage.

“People may be attracted to those who have similar attitudes, values, and beliefs and even marry them – at least in part – on the basis of this similarity because attitudes are highly visible and salient characteristics and they are fundamental to the way people lead their lives,” said the authors in their study. Personality-related characteristics, on the other hand, take much longer to be known and to be accurately perceived and are not likely to play a more substantial role until later in the relationship, according to the authors.

Researchers said that once people are in a committed relationship, it is primarily personality similarity that influences marital happiness because “being in a committed relationship entails regular interaction and requires extensive coordination in dealing with tasks, issues and problems of daily living.”

And what about opposites? Do opposites attract? Not according the researchers. They say their data showed no evidence of it.
Source: Assortative Mating and Marital Quality in Newlyweds: A Couple-Centered Approach.  Shanhong Luo and Eva C. Klohnen, University of Iowa; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 88, No. 2.

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Here’s one more reason not to feel sorry for CEOs. They’re happier.

According to a recent study, ranking — not income — determines work happiness.

A professor of economics at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom surveyed 16,266 workers from more than 800 workplaces. The results showed that when Andew Oswald looked at an employee’s worker’s position in a company, he found a strong link with job satisfaction. He says rank influenced how proud people were with their professional achievements, and rank increased happiness 50 to 60 percent when compared with bigger paychecks.

In a second experiment with students, Oswald asked how satisfied they would be with a job offering a yearly salary of $32,000 after graduation. Some were told the pay was the second lowest in the firm, while others were told it was the fifth from the bottom. The results — the higher the ranking, the more satisfied the students were with their prospective job.

Note: this post relies on information provided in an article by Psychology Today online.

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