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Archive for December 20th, 2007

Don’t count on a professional degree to guarantee happiness.

According to recent reports, about 20 percent of all male lawyers report being depressed, which is nearly three times higher than the national average for men. Female lawyers fare a little better, but not by much.

What gives?

Some experts blame it on stress, long hours, and a pessimistic personality. Others attribute it to a profession that interacts with people in typically emotional or high-stakes settings, which can tax even the most psychologically stable individuals

Lawyers, of course, don’t have a lock on professional unhappiness.

Physicians often grapple with the same issues, and as a result many are searching for less demanding environments, such as administration, teaching or consulting.

As a society, we value professional achievement. It drives much of our behavior. But it doesn’t necessarily lead to a happy or satisfying life. Just ask any unhappy lawyer or physician.

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Can you have low self-esteem and still be happy?

Research suggests you probably can.

Clearly, people who report being happy tend to also have high self-esteem. High self-esteem helps those people find more resources that can, in turn, help generate even more pleasurable and enjoyable experiences.

But researchers also suggest self-esteem and happiness, while often connected, are two different constructs.

For example, happiness appears to be uniquely connected to mood, temperamental traits, overall life satisfaction appraisals and social contacts. Meanwhile, self-esteem appears to be uniquely connected to feelings of optimism, sense of mastery, satisfaction with one’s education, and satisfaction associated with various needs — such as achievement, purpose, meaning and understanding.

Thus, you could assess yourself as being low in those areas and yet still feel you’re relatively happy. High self-esteem does not appear to be a necessary, fundamental requirement for happiness — but it helps.

Source: Happiness and Self-Esteem by Sonja Lyubomirsky, Chris Tkach and M. Robin Dimatteo

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People can change their happiness levels through intervention. That is, unhappiness need not be preordained and forever.

But what works?

Besides expressing gratitude and helping others, some research points towards thinking and replaying happier times as a key intervention technique.

One study, for example, compared feelings associated with writing about happy life experiences, talking into a tape recorder or privately thinking about them.

The findings indicated that those who thought about their happiest events had the higher life satisfaction reportings.

Similarly, in another study participants wrote or thought about their happiest day by either analyzing it or repetitively replaying it in their minds. The same result — writing and analysis was more detrimental than thinking and replaying the incident.

In other words, one technique to improving happiness might be to replay or relive positive life events “as though rewinding a videotape.”

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

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Whether a woman has had children or not isn’t likely to affect her psychological well-being in later life.

That’s the conclusion reached by several researchers in a recent study about childrearing. Details of the study were presented in this article in ScienceDaily.

This study suggests that the outlook for psychological well-being later in life for today’s childless women is quite good.

The researchers looked at data on women between the ages of 51 and 61 from two different national surveys that included common measures for psychological well-being.

According to their analysis, all other things being equal, the childless women were about as satisfied and happy with their lives as the on-time mothers.

Researchers also found another interesting tidbit — the highest level of well-being was among mothers who were most likely to have children still living at home or still in college. The study suggests that delaying motherhood may have some benefits for women—probably related to “being more career focused and having higher social standing.”

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A number of parents want teachers who make their children happy, perhaps even over those teachers who emphasize academic achievement.

That’s the conclusion reached by researchers at the University of Michigan as described in this article by Science Daily.

The researchers studied 300 parents in a mid-sized district in western United States and found numerous instances of requests for teachers with with high satisfaction ratings over teachers with strong achievement ratings.

But the researchers also said families in higher poverty schools favored schools with strong student achievement scores. The reverse was true for families in wealthier schools. One possible explanation — because resources are typically limited in low-income school environments, parents may seek teachers skilled at improving achievement, even if it means sacrificing satisfaction. With resources abundant in wealthier environments, researchers believe parents don’t feel as compelled to find high-achieving teachers and are more interested in finding teachers who help their children enjoy school and learning.

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When it comes to happiness, culture plays a big role.

For years researchers have pondered whether or not happiness is a universal trait. Many have concluded that most people across the globe do desire some form and degree of happiness.

But that pursuit of happiness varies greatly depending on one’s culture and circumstances. For example, no surprise — very poor nations and those in dramatic political change invariably report the lowest levels of subjective well-being. Conversely, many of the wealthy and democratic Scandinavian countries consistently report the highest levels of happiness.

But a culture can also be poor in resources and rich in happiness as well. Latin American nations, as an example, appear to have a more positive orientation and value happiness more than other countries. At the other end of the scale, East Asian nations often place other values ahead of happiness, such as mastery and pleasing one’s family or group.

How we define happiness has as much to do with our cultural influences as it does with our personality, goals and other individual factors.

Source: Subjective Well-Being Is Desirable, But Not the Summum Bonum by Ed Diener and Christie Scollon

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