College Happiness

Can higher income and higher job satisfaction be tied back to cheerfulness in college?

That appears to be the case if you believe research conducted several years ago.

The researchers looked at answers to a survey given by more than 13,000 freshman college students who entered college in 1976. Nineteen years later the researchers looked at how their lives had turned out, specifically looking at their incomes, job satisfaction and unemployment history.

Cheerfulness (or a positive outlook) generally has a positive effect on income. The better the outlook, the higher the income. Those with a more positive attitude also had less incidents of unemployment.

Why the connection?

Researchers think several dynamics are at play. First, they say cheerfulness may have a motivational element. They say that happier individuals may be more likely to anticipate success and so are more willing to tackle difficult or challenging tasks. Potential setbacks don’t have the same negative impact on them compared to other people. That may be especially useful in work environments as their “can do” attitude translates into better performance and greater rewards.

Second cheerful people may have more social skills and be more adept at the interpersonal dynamics at play in a job. Individuals with a pleasant or upbeat personality may also be offered more desirable positions or be more successful at persuading others.

A third possibility may be that upbeat people also may get more favorable performance ratings. A “halo effect” may occur where an overall general impression creeps into evaluations of specific behaviors.

The research leads to an intriguing question. If income levels can be predicted based on one’s attitude in college, should students seek out a personality/attitude survey that might give them some early feedback? While income should not be the sole criteria for a happy and successful life, it does matter. An early tool may help students evaluate their mindset before jumping into a competitive job market.

Source: Dispositional Effect and Job Outcomes. Ed Diener, Carol Nickerson, Richard E. Lucas, Ed Sandvik. Social Sciences Research.59, 229-259.



Mo Money, Mo Money

Why do people want more money?

Philosophers, economists, and researchers have been pondering that question for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. One reason for the question — more money does not contribute that much to a person’s happiness.

If that is true, then why do people want more money?

There could be several explanations, according to researchers.

First, it could be that people don’t realize more money will not raise their well-being, although this is suspect since in studies most people say that money is not that important in their hierarchy of values.

It could also be that people enjoy the goal of attaining higher incomes more than the money itself and what it represents.

One other explanation, according to researchers, is that people may seek money because it produces short-terms benefits, even though a person’s long-term happiness does not move.

And finally, people may feel a strong need to acquire money, goods and services simply because of societal pressure. Individuals may feel they need to buy things to gain status and not be perceived as failures.

Whatever the reason, the research remains pretty strong — once a minimum level of existence or income occurs — higher income has only a modest impact on a person’s long-term happiness.

Source: Will money increase subjective well-being? Diener, E., & Biswas-Diener, R. Social Indicators Research, 57, 119-169 (2002).

Values and Happiness

That which we value tends to make us happier.

That seemingly innocuous and obvious statement has a lot behind it.

For example, what exactly do we value? Do we know? Is it material wealth? Is it achievement? Is it some combination? Most people assume they know what their values are. Politicians certainly talk enough about it. Is there a universal set of values most people share?

To learn more about how our values drive our well-being, researchers at the University of Illinois a number of years ago asked students to keep a journal for nearly a month straight, asking them at the end of each day to rate how good or bad a day it was and whether or not they were satisfied with certain things, like their social life.

They discovered that day-to-day satisfaction is strongly influenced by the domain we value the most. Thus, if achievement was highly valued by the students, achievement-oriented individuals tended to evaluate a day as good when they excelled in some form of achievement. Similarly, people who stressed benevolence evaluated their day as good when they had a positive social interaction.

All this means is that people find different activities more or less rewarding. No surprise there. But think about the consequences. It means, for example, that not everybody places achievement at his or her highest value level and that’s okay. We don’t all have to be high achievers or social magnets to be happy.

Find what you do value and focus on that, not on what society as a whole believes.

Source: Value as a Moderator in Subjective Well-Being. Shigehiro Oishi, Ed Diener, Eunkook Suh, Richard E. Lucas, Journal of Personality 67:1; February, 1999

Are extroverts happier?

The research points in that direction.

While the actual mechanism remains unclear, a number of different studies seem to suggest that on average those people labeled as “extroverted” tend to be happier both in the short-term and long-term.

But there are some interesting subtleties to the research.

For example, two researchers seemed to demonstrate that extroverts have higher average levels of positive emotions because they react more positively than introverts to the same daily stimuli and events. In other words, it’s that reaction that contributes to their overall well-being.

Meanwhile, other findings seem to contradict a long-held belief.

Many people assume that because extroverted people gain high levels of satisfaction through social interactions and relationships (think traveling salesperson or social butterfly), those social interactions are the primary reason for their happiness. Conversely, if you don’t have similar kinds of social relationships, then you won’t be as happy.

However, one study suggests that extroverts are also happier than introverts whether they live alone or with others, work in nonsocial jobs or in social jobs, or live in rural or urban areas. In fact, another study shows that extroverts do not spend more time with others, although they were still happier than introverts.

All of this research confirms the overwhelming belief in research circles that heredity plays a very strong (although not exclusive) role in one’s ongoing level of happiness or unhappiness.

What does this mean for people who are introverted?

It does not mean they can’t or won’t be happy, but it does suggest that they may need to pay a lot more attention to their needs in order to counteract the potential negative effects from hereditary forces.

Source: Subjective well-being: Three decades of progress. By: Diener, Ed, Suh, Eunkook M., Lucas, Richard E., Smith, Heidi L., Psychological Bulletin, 00332909, 19990301, Vol. 125, Issue 2

Happiness helps you live longer.

Most people ascribe to that maxim, even if they’ve never seen the research backing it up. It just makes sense.

But for several years now, the research has demonstrated a clear correlation between happiness and a longer life. It first started with a follow-up study of the now famous Minnesota nuns. Comparing their essays when they first entered the order and their ages, researchers found that of those rated as writing “happier” essays — 90 percent of them lived past the age of 85 compared with only 34 percent who were rated in the least happy percentile.

Another study of Mayo Clinic patients demonstrated the same thing. As part of their admittance, 800 patients answered questions about whether their outlook was optimistic or pessimistic. Forty years later, of the 200 patients who had died, the optimists showed 19 percent greater longevity than the pessimists.

Longevity clearly results from genetics, lifestyle, and other factors (perhaps even luck). But one thing is clear — a positive attitude and happier mindset can extend one’s life and make it richer in the process.

Source: Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness and Human Strengths. Alan Carr. Brunner-Routledge. New York. 2004

With European populations aging, researchers have been turning their attention to mature adults and their various levels of happiness and unhappiness.

Here are some of their findings:

  • Older people living alone were more likely to be depressed, lonely and unhappy and to be less satisfied with life than those living with a spouse.
  • Those living with a relative or friend were more likely to be lonely than those living with a spouse.
  • Men living with a relative or friend were less likely to be happy or satisfied with life than those living with a wife.
  • In most regions of Europe, older women who were unmarried were in general happier living with friends and family than alone. But this did not apply to women in Nordic countries where there was no significant difference in happiness levels between living alone or with other people.
  • In England, older women rated their health better if they lived alone rather than with a husband. However, men and women living alone had a higher mortality risk than those who lived with a spouse.

Keep a person satisfied in his or her job and it will result in superior job performance.

At least that’s been the prevailing wisdom.

But now a researcher says it doesn’t quite work that way. Nathan Bowling, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Wright State, says that his research shows that satisfaction does not cause performance. Instead, he says that employee personality characteristics, such as self-esteem, emotional stability, extroversion and conscientiousness determine it.

According to Bowling, the studies show that employees who have an overall negative attitude to all things in life likely won’t find job satisfaction, regardless of performance, because of their personality characteristics.

“Emotional stability matters a lot,” Bowling said. “People who are neurotic, those who tend to be anxious, depressed, regardless of the situation, typically won’t find satisfaction no matter how many jobs they try.”

What are the implications of his work?

Bowling says that workplace interventions designed to improve performance by exclusively targeting employee satisfaction are unlikely to be effective. He also suggests that the studies show that intelligence is one of the things that drives the performance. Another common denominator of solid performing employees, according to Bowling, are those who exhibit a high level of conscientiousness — those who are detail-oriented, hard workers and who set goals.

Source: Is the Job Satisfaction-Job Performance Relationship Spurious: A Meta-Analytic Examination. Source: Bowling, N.A. (2007). Journal of Vocational Behavior, 71, 167-185.