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Posts Tagged ‘Happiness’

Researchers confirmed recently what a lot of people are feeling — the mid-life blues.

Researchers from Great Britain and the U.S. analyzed data of more than two million people and spanning 35 years. They analyzed them for depression, anxiety, happiness and life satisfaction.

They found a U-shaped curve in which people reported being happiest in their 20s and in their 50s and older, but that both men and women were more likely to be depressed and were generally less happy in their 40s.

In fact, they discovered that for both sexes, the probability of depression peaks around the age of 44.

Not everybody is convinced the “slump” is all about age or other demographics. Previous happiness studies have suggested that demographics play a small role in overall happiness. For example, past studies have shown no significant differences in subjective well-being based on gender. In addition, some researchers have noted some differences in the age curve based on a particular culture or country.

One of the co-authors of the study, Andrew Oswald, an economics professor at the University of Warwick in Britain, thinks that this U-shaped curve of happiness occurs because people begin to confront their limitations and unrealistic dreams in their 30s and hit a low-point in their 40s. After that, they move past their disappointments and go on to feel more satisfied as they age. Other researchers have suggested that happiness improves with age because of some adaptation mechanism, which allows people to adjust better to changing circumstances.

A third potential explanation is that watching friends and family die off makes people more grateful and satisfied as they age.

Whatever the reasons, the study does point towards paying careful attention to people in the 40s for signs of psychological or mental distress. Mid-life blues could have serious and long-lasting damaging effects to not only the individuals themselves, but to family, friends, and business colleagues as well.

Maybe what’s needed is a mental checkup when one turns 40. We do it for our physical health. Why not do it for our psychological health as well?

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Could positive psychology techniques help reduce the effects of depression?

That was the theory leading to a series of preliminary studies by renowned psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman a few years ago. Seligman and his team wanted to know if they could use a more proactive approach than just targeting depression’s symptoms to get better results.

As a result, they studied the lives of more than 300 college students at the University of Pennsylvania, some of whom were categorized as clinically depressed.

Specifically, the researchers wanted to know if three intervention components would make much of a difference. Those components were having positive emotions, being engaged, and having a “meaningful” life.

Positive emotions included attitudes about the past, present and future and learning skills to amplify both the intensity and duration of these emotions. The idea of engagement came from another researchers idea of “flow” — that state of mind in which a person is totally involved and absorbed in something important to him or her. And finally, a “meaningful life” meant a person was using his or her signature strengths and talents to serve something that was bigger than themselves, such as church or their family.

Using several different exercises, the researchers followed the attitudes of the participants over a period of one year.

They found that the positive psychology exercises relieved depression symptoms for at least six months compared with no intervention, and they decreased levels of mild-to-moderate depression over a one year period.

The researchers would be the first to note that the study sample was small and may not reflect larger populations. And no one is saying these techniques are the best and only way to relieve depression symptoms. In fact, pharmaceutical interventions continue to have the most dramatic improvement in the lives of millions of depressed individuals.

Still, the results show promise. Positive psychology interventions could very well make a difference to people in dire need of treatment.

Source: Positive Psychotherapy. Seligman, Martin E. P., Rashid, Tayyab, Parks, Acacia C., American Psychologist, Vol. 61, Issue 8

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When it comes to friendships, is quantity or quality better for your overall well-being?

Researchers have demonstrated convincingly that friendships matter when it comes to happiness. In fact, some studies have suggested that the number of friends was positively related to happiness. Implicit in these findings is that a person would be happier if he or she had more friends.

But other researchers took a different look — not at quantity, but quality. They wanted to know if there were different kinds of friendships that contributed to one’s happiness and which feature was the strongest predictor.

To learn more, they surveyed 280 college students (192 women and 88 men). They ran them through a variety of questionnaires to better understand their feelings and attitudes about friendships.

What they found may or may not surprise you.

First, they found that a “best friendship” environment significantly predicted happiness compared to the overall number of friends. Thus, even though one might have several friendships, it is the best friend that contributes most to one’s happiness.

They also found that if the best friendship was low in quality, the high quality of the other close friends did not make a difference in the happiness of that person. In other words, best friends matter more, even if the relationship is not as strong as it could be.

Third, they found that intimacy is not the reason best friendships matter in terms of happiness. It’s companionship that matters. This makes sense since other studies show that activities contribute to a person’s happiness and they are often the result of some companionship, not necessarily intimacy.

What does all of this mean?

It means a person doesn’t need a large number of friends to be happy, nor do those friendships require intimacy. Instead, combine companionship with a best friend and the result will likely be greater overall well-being.

Source:  Looking to happy tomorrows with friends: Best and close friendships as they predict happiness. Melikşah Demir, Metin Özdemir and Lesley A. Weitekamp. Journal of Happiness Studies. Vol. 8. No. 2, June 2007

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Simple things make us happy.

That deceptively simple and obvious observation has now been backed up by research conducted last year in England at the University of Nottingham.

Researchers wanted to compare the happiness “levels” of lottery jackpot winners with a control group. Using what’s called the “Satisfaction with Life Scale,” people in both groups were asked how satisfied they were in comparison to different elements in their life, their different moods, and how often they treated themselves .

Despite how we all think we would act, the reserachers found that it wasn’t the flashy cars that dramatically increase one’s happiness level. Instead, it was reading a book, enjoying a bottle of wine or listening to music that really made a difference.

The results are interesting for one other interesting fact — lottery jackpot winners were on the whole happier than non-winners (95 percent of them said they were positive about their life compared with 71 percent in the non-winner group).

Thus, even though they were happier becaue of their winnings, both groups shared a greater interest in cost-free indulgences, such as a long bath, playing games or enjoying their hobby. Those who described themselves as being less happy didn’t those the cost-free indulgences.

The researchers concluded — spending time relaxing is the secret to a happy life. “Cost-free pleasures are the ones that make the difference.”

Source: Source: Millionaires. ScienceDaily

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Does a combination of positive events and circumstances result in happiness or does a happy mindset result in positive circumstances?

Researchers have struggled with that question and it’s an important one. Many self-help books tell us that if we just change our thinking, then success and happiness will follow. But what if it’s the other way around? What if you must first do things to improve your overall well-being, with your initial attitude being irrelevant or minimal? Which approach is most accurate? If someone is unhappy, which path should one pursue?

To answer this question, several years ago researchers looked at both at the same time, putting nearly 200 psychology students through a series of tests. Specifically, they wanted to see what impact four areas of daily life would have on one’s perception of their happiness — their physical health, the amount of daily hassles in their lives, their overall view of the world, and their way of thinking that deals with real-world situations and problems.

What did their research lead them to conclude?

They concluded that happiness works both ways and that there is no single “secret.” For example, they found that the more daily hassles a person reported, the lower his or her reported level of happiness. Similarly, people who reported high levels of physical symptoms also tended to report high levels of daily hassles and see the world as being less benevolent — both of which contribute to less than optimal level of well-being.

At the opposite end, the research showed that if someone had a general disposition towards happiness or life satisfaction, then they tended to report fewer daily hassles, better physical health, and seemed to cope better with real-world situations. In that case, the personality caused the others to occur.

This early research in happiness is consistent with more recent studies which suggest one’s level of happiness is a combination of genes, circumstances and direct control. In other words, happiness is a combination of who you are, where you are and what you do. While psychologists debate the percentage of each one of those “slices” of the happiness pie — what is clear is this: the cause and effect works both ways. It helps to have a happy disposition, but it’s not a necessity. Doing certain things can improve one’s overall well-being, in spite of any hardships, circumstances or personality influences that may stand in the way.

Source: Integrating top-down and bottom-up structural models of subjective well-being: A longitudinal investigation. By: Feist, Gregory J., Bodner, Todd E., Jacobs, John F., Miles, Marilyn, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 68, Issue 1

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When it comes to goals, what you pursue and how you pursue them can make an enormous difference in your overall well-being.

In the past several years researchers have studied what many of us know intuitively — money or the pursuit of money probably won’t make us happy. And yet, the desire continues. Entrepreneurs seek the next “killer app.” Gamblers roll the dice and punch their lotto cards. We all continue to cling to the hope and fantasy that if we only had a lot of money all of our woes would end. We would be living on cloud nine.

Deep down, we know it doesn’t work that way.

But researchers wanted to confirm that gut feeling in a series of experiments. They also wanted to see to what extent intrinsic (inwardly) goals affected our well-being compared to extrinsic (external) goals, such as wealth, power and social acceptance.

Not surprisingly, they found that when people focused on external goals, there was a stronger negative relationship between those goals and their well-being. In other words, pursuing wealth, power, etc. had a more damaging effect on one’s happiness compared to pursuing intrinsic goals.

Several reasons could explain the connection.

First, researchers believe people strongly pursuing extrinsic goals tend to have more superficial relationships, engage in more social comparisons, and allow those external pursuits to crowd out enjoyable and satisfying activities.

But it could also be that people with traits such as high insecurity, low self-esteem, or low cooperativeness are attracted to extrinsic goal settings and diminished well-being. Thus, the two go hand-in-hand because of these personality traits.

What is clear is this — people’s choice of goals affects one’s overall, long-term well-being. In addition, the focus of those goals and the dynamic process with which those goals are pursued make a big difference in our lives. People who wish to be happier in their lives may be better served, for example, in focusing more on those goals that involve growth, connections and contribution, as opposed to those goals that involve money, beauty and popularity. In addition, goals that are interesting and more personally relevant to us will also contribute more to our overall well-being than goals that forced or pressured upon us.

Pursue your goals because of what they will do for you on the inside, not for what they will do for you on the outside.

Source: Sheldon, K. M., Ryan, R., Deci, E., & Kasser, T. (2004). The independent effects of goal contents and motives on well-being: It’s both what you pursue and why you pursue it. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 475-486.

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Simply put — positive emotions broaden one’s thinking.

Given the opposite environment — one in which negative emotions emerge — this makes perfect sense. What do people express when they are in a funk or depressed? They say they can’t think of anything else; their thought processes narrow. Many people in that situation even say even their vision narrows — the “looking through a narrow tunnel” syndrome.

Now, researchers have confirmed that the opposite occurs when positive emotions exist. They say that people who experience positive emotions “show a style of broad-minded coping in which they step back from the current problems and consider them from multiple angles.”

Obviously, that approach comes in handy during a stressful situation. People in a positive state are more likely to reappraise the situation in a positive light and be more goal-directed. They are also more likely to infuse ordinary events with positive meaning, which in turns help them survive or thrive despite adversity.

As corny as it may sound, Norman Vincent Peale got it right — the power of positive thinking rests in its ability to broaden, not narrow, our thoughts, perceptions and actions. If you want to change your actions, change your emotions first.

Source: Positive emotions broaden the scope of attention and thought-action repertoires. Barbara L. Fredrickson and Christine Branigan. Cognition and Emotion 19 (3), 313-332 (2005)

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