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Archive for January 3rd, 2008

Here’s an intriguing thought — what if our leading economic indicators were supplemented with a happiness or well-being index? Would we have a different appraisal of the U.S. economy? Would we create different public policy?

Two of the leading psychologists in the field of well-being studies — Ed Diener and Martin E.P. Seligman — made that provocative suggestion several years ago in a highly detailed report.

Their observation? We should include it. They argued that income and wealth generation is only one indication of the overall state of a nation (albeit a strong one). For example, they cite that while economic output has risen steeply over the past decades, there has been no rise in life satisfaction during this period, and in fact there has been a substantial increase in depression and distrust.

In other words, we’re making more and enjoying it less. Shouldn’t we be measuring that and building policy around it?

The researchers argue that if we measured different factors, such as the well-being of workers, we would have much different outcomes and thus would be more willing to take steps to improve them. Thus, perhaps U.S. policymakers would be more inclined to consider legislation or incentives that rewarded companies for improving the overall well-being of their workers, even if it meant initially higher costs or lower profits. (Ironically, happy workers are productive workers. Thus, a business should promote well-being.)

A different perspective might also motivate policymakers to fund programs that reduce mental disorders or generate more positive social relationships.

The U.S. economy has evolved and matured. Shouldn’t we do the same with respect to our appraisal of it?

Source: Beyond Money: Toward an Economy of Well-Being, Ed Diener, Martin EP. Seligman (2004) Psychological Science in the Public Interest 5 (1), 1–31

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“She flourished in her new job.”

If there’s one word that encapsulates much of the research surrounding happiness it would be flourishto live within an optimal range of human functioning.

But what is that optimal range and can it be proven?

In 2005 two researchers concluded that the optimal level of flourishing existed when the number of genuine positive emotions outpaced the number of negative emotions by a ratio of 3-to-1 (actually 2.9). They came to that conclusion after analyzing the daily reportings of about 200 people over a period of one month.

Interestingly, the researchers said that other studies indicate that only about 20 percent of the U.S. population are flourishing at any given time. The rest, they say, are “languishing.”

Did they detect an upper limit? Researchers Frederickson and Losada believe inappropriate or non-genuine positive emotions disrupt this delicate balance of well-being. They also said that appropriate negative emotions are a critical ingredient within human flourishing.

In summary, the researchers said optimal human flourishing has four key components: goodness, generativity (meaning broad and flexible behavior), growth and resilience.

In other words, to be happy is to flourish.

Source: Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing by Barbara L. Fredrickson and Marcial F. Losada, American Psychologist

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