Posts Tagged ‘Satisfaction’

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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Think you can predict your future happiness?

Guess again.

A number of studies have consistently shown that we all incorrectly predict whether or not something in the future will make us happy.

Here’s one quick example.

Associate professors were asked to estimate their overall level of happiness if they made tenure or were denied it. The results of the study? It found (at least in the short term) that those who were given tenure were less happy than they expected, and those professors who were denied tenure were actually happier than they predicted.

Think about that the next time you consider changing jobs or buying a new car. Will you be as happy as you think you will be? Probably not.

The same is true, by the way, for overly pessimistic predictions. We tend to be both overly optimistic and pessimistic. In fact, psychology author and researcher Dan Gilbert says that most events in our lives have a small impact that don’t last very long. Whether they are good or bad, happy or sad — we get over them eventually.

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Fear can be a useful emotion. It might protect us by causing a “fight” of “flee” reaction to a threatening environment. But there’s a downside to this type of “negative” emotion. Studies show that the heightened cardiovascular activity from the fight-or-flight situations — especially if large, recurrent, or prolonged — can place individuals at risk for coronary heart disease.

Can positive emotions mitigate or reverse the cardiovascular effects of negative emotions?

Several years ago researchers sought an answer to that question. Their findings — positive emotions do indeed affect the cardiovascular system. But here’s what’s interesting — it’s not so much what positive emotions do to the system; it’s what they can undo. When negative emotions have already generated cardiovascular stress the positive emotions can bring a person’s heart levels back to its base level.

In other words, thinking positive thoughts, repeating meditative mantras or implementing calm breathing techniques during duress do work. They can bring down your stress level, thereby reducing your risk of coronary heart disease.

Source: The Undoing Effect of Positive Emotions by Barbara L. Fredrickson, Roberta A. Mancuso, Christine Branigan and Michele M. Tugade

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Resilient individuals tend to experience positive emotions even during stress.

That was the conclusion reached by researchers Michele M. Tugade and Barbara L. Fredrickson several years ago after studying how and why some people “bounce back” from stressful situations and others don’t.

The researchers looked at stress in both the laboratory setting and in daily life. They discovered that people at both ends of the resilience spectrum (high and low) both experienced frustration when faced with a problem they described. The difference between the two, however, surfaced in their emotions. High-resilient people reported higher levels of a positive mood, even while being frustrated. They also reported feeling more eagerness, excitement, happiness and interest during that same time, especially compared to low-resilient individuals.

The researchers call this effective “emotion regulation” — the ability to keep an even keel when all hell is breaking loose. Thus, they say positive emotions amidst stress can have some real advantages in the coping process.

In other words, even under the most stressful and trying situations — find a way to be positive. You can and will bounce back.

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Which road leads to a fuller, more satisfying life — the road through pleasure, engagement or meaning?

Philosophers have grappled with this question since Ancient Roman times, but recently researchers wanted to explore the question for a more practical reason — perhaps a more definitive answer could clinically help people who experience unhappiness.

The results of one study may have muddied the picture instead of clearing it up. Researchers concluded that all of these paths can lead to life satisfaction and no one single path necessarily holds greater weight than the others.

How can this be? How can hedonism hold equal promise compared to a life full of meaning or engagement? Perhaps we don’t want to believe it. Life with meaning or engagement is certainly a life worth living. Purpose drives us. It drives us to act positively, both towards ourselves and others. But what if just pursuing pleasure for pleasure sake (assuming the behavior’s ethical) can generate just as much satisfaction for some? Does that negate the other two?

No. It means life runs through many roads. The key is finding yours.

Source: Orientations to Happiness and Life Satisfaction: The Full Life Versus the Empty Life by Christopher Peterson, Nansook Park and Martin E.P. Seligman

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Pop a sugar cube in your mouth and what happens? You taste sweetness, right? Pretty simple.

Not so, according to researchers. Simple pleasures actually hide a complex dance between the brain, the nervous system and a host of chemical or electrical reactions — all of which might hold important keys to your overall satisfaction and happiness.

Take the desire for something pleasurable. Is that the same as the result itself? Say you want to water ski and imagine the spray on your face, the tug of the boat and the bright, blue sky above as you crisscross across the smooth, watery surface. Will the event match your expectations? Perhaps. Both may give you the same pleasure.

But “wanting” and “having” something may also have two different outcomes in the brain, according to researchers at the University of Michigan. In other words, you can gain pleasure from each independent of the other. For example, the researchers suggest that some drug addicts relapse because their changed brains make them vulnerable to wanting the drugs, even after the symptoms of withdrawal have long passed.

In practical terms, desire holds its own rewards. We can actually experience pleasure and thus some level of satisfaction by wanting something, regardless of whether or not it becomes reality.

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Do Your Duty

Can social duties contribute to one’s well-being?

The notion seems counterintuitive. Duties, after all, suggest obligations — having to do something not because you want to, but because you have to do it.

But research seems to point in a different direction. It suggests social duties do contribute to our happiness, especially as we get older. The key is autonomy — having the ability to choose to participate in social duties as opposed to being told to participate in them.

Take voting, for example.

As we age, we tend to want to participate more vigorously in the political process. Perhaps we have a greater appreciation for social institutions, or we are more likely to wrestle with moral and spiritual questions. Or perhaps it results from just taking more responsibility for our own actions. Whatever the reason, the research seems to say that this autonomous act of fulfilling our social responsibilities adds to our overall satisfaction and happiness.

In short, get involved. Fulfilling one’s social responsibilities can reward even the most die-hard political cynic.

Source: Doing One’s Duty: Chronological Age, Felt Autonomy, and Subjective Well-Being by Kennon M. Sheldon, Tim Kassar, Linda Houser-Marko, Taisha Jones, and Daniel Turban

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When it comes to friends and happiness, quality matters.

People have known this for centuries. One good friend means more to us than 20 acquaintances. But now recent studies appear to back up this common knowledge, and the results could have significant implications to recent trends in online social networking.

Researchers Meliksah Demir and Lesley Weitekamp wanted to explore the interrelationships between personality, friendship and happiness. Specifically, they wanted to know whether friendship contributed to happiness if personality stayed out of the picture. After surveying more than 400 young adults, they concluded that happiness accounted for nearly 60 percent of the variance in happiness. The authors of the study suggest that even though one could be predisposed to being happy, having a friendship that is high in quality “still adds something extra to our lives and has the potential to increase one’s happiness level.” The researchers also suggest that friendship is important regardless of a person’s personality.

What were the two most important characteristics of friendship that seem to predict happiness? Companionship and self-validation. In other words, in the U.S. we want our friends to be with us. We also want them to help us maintain our self-image by being reassuring and encouraging.

Source: I Am So Happy ‘Cause Today I Found My Friend: Friendship and Personality as Predictors of Happiness by Meliksah Demir and Lesley A. Weitekamp

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Psychological studies have consistently linked materialism or financial aspirations with unhappy and unsatisfied lives.

But recent research shows a more complex picture.

For example, one study found that the financial aspirations of those more highly educated leaned towards higher happiness levels compared to people with low educational levels. At the same time, people with high materialism and strong religious beliefs had lower subjective well-being levels compared to people with higher financial aspirations but a lower religious commitment.

Adding to the complexity — research suggests that while financial aspirations do pull life satisfaction down, household income tends to pull it up. That begs the question — how do most people achieve higher household incomes? Through financial aspirations, of course.

A classic Catch-22.

Aspiring to financial success won’t contribute to your happiness, but a higher income will. No wonder improving happiness through money often feels like a land mine.

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Positive emotions not only help people today, but lay the groundwork for happiness tomorrow.

Researchers continue to build evidence supporting that common-sense idea. One of the latest — the broaden-and-build theory proposed by Barbara Frederickson at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ms. Frederickson and her colleagues say that unlike negative emotions, which narrow people’s thoughts and actions, positive emotions broaden them. Thus, a person begins to think and act in new and novel ways, which in turn leads to an increase in personal resources. The researchers believe that as individuals bring these new ideas and actions into their daily life, they build an even greater array of physical, intellectual, social and psychological resources. This, in turn, leads to more positive emotions — a continuous upward spiral that contributes to a person’s overall well-being.

How can this knowledge help people? It suggests that to feel happier in the long run — begin feeling positive literally one day at a time. Each day of positive emotion becomes like a deposit in the bank that over time generates enormous psychological wealth.

Source: Positive Emotions Trigger Upward Spirals Toward Positive Well-Being by Barbara L. Frederickson and Thomas Joiner

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On average, happier people are more successful, do better in social relationships, and like themselves and other people more. They are also usually more creative and better able to cope with difficult situations.

However, there may be one area where unhappy people may have a slight edge — judgment and decision making.

It’s been called the “depressive realism” effect. Research suggests depressed people (at least in laboratory settings) judge their control over events more accurately than non-depressed people.

In research studying this effect, happier people have applied successful shortcuts they’ve learned in the past, only to arrive at the wrong answer. Furthermore, the research suggests people in a positive mood tend to use stereotypes more, to be less logical and to be more biased in their judgments.

Real-life, complex settings still probably favor the happier person over the unhappy person in the long run, but it is an intriguing thought — just because you’re happy doesn’t mean you will necessarily make the right decision or move. In fact, your positive mood may cloud your judgment, causing you to believe in a potential outcome that may be unrealistic or has serious “holes” in it. In other words, our positivism could blind us to realities.

Perhaps it’s okay at times to be skeptical, negative or be in a bad mood. It may just prevent us from making a big mistake.

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It turns out thinking positively about yourself in the future improves present happiness as well. Researchers dub this the “best possible self” approach.

The idea is to set aside 20 minutes each day to think about the best-case scenario for yourself for some definitive time in the future. Even better — write down a detailed description of what that life will be like for you. Be realistic, but don’t be afraid to reach as well. Studies show that having just-out-of-reach goals greatly improves your overall feelings of well-being. To keep things fresh, try changing the topic from day to day. For example, focus on your job one week or your personal life the next. Finally, try using this technique for 30 days straight and see if that doesn’t produce a more habitual way of thinking for you, especially if you don’t typically project yourself much in the future.

This certainly doesn’t work for everybody, but if you want to feel happier today, try putting yourself in the best possible light of tomorrow.

Source: Toward a Durable Happiness by Jaime L. Kurtz and Sonja Lyubomirsky

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Evidence keeps building that adaptation plays an important role in one’s well-being.

Studies suggest that once a significant event occurs in our lives, whether it’s good or bad, we eventually adapt to the impact of that event and then return to our previous satisfaction levels. That explains, in part, why lottery winners who were studied only reported experiencing slight increases in happiness levels or why spinal cord injury victims were not as unhappy as one would think two months after their accident.

One researcher called this the “hedonic treadmill.” We revert back to our usual levels of happiness in a relatively short period of time after a spike. It’s called “treadmill” because we can never stay at this new level of well-being for very long.

But subsequent research disputed this theory. For example, the return to “normalcy’ took much longer, occurred more slowly or never happened at all for some people, such as widows and caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients. That has led researchers to question whether people fall back to their previous “average” level of well-being or do they find a different, new middle ground after their significant incident and they settle into that?

This much is known — adaptation matters. Whether it’s immediate or long-term, how we adapt to life events can have a profound effect on our happiness.

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Make no mistake about it. Many people enter politics for one fairly simple reason — it’s highly stimulating.

Look at the candidates running for President. Crowds of people hanging on their every word. New cities and towns to visit. Staff members who need direction and leadership. Policy statements that gain national media attention. Every moment of the candidate’s waking day is filled with endless excitement, stimulation and energy. It’s a drug of sorts, a kind of natural high.

And boy do they like it. They like it a lot.

If we’ve learned anything, though, about stimulation and excitement it’s this — it never lasts at the same level as it began. Thus, is it any wonder the media gets bored with one campaigner or our politicians become bored with the dull, seemingly routine mechanics of governing? Nothing quite compares to the race. Nothing beats a good rally.

But at what price? Do we elect people on their ability to excite us or on their ability to govern and get things done? Perhaps what we need in positions of power and national leadership are not seekers of stimulation, but men and women of quiet accomplishments, fortitude and intelligence.

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A recent study confirmed what most people believe about homeless people — they report low levels of satisfaction, especially with material resources such as income and housing.

But the study also found some surprising and unexpected findings.

For example, those studied (which included two groups in the U.S. and one in Calcutta) reported self-satisfaction levels above neutral. In other words, despite their dire straits, many of them felt good about themselves, including their morality, physical appearance and intelligence.

Another surprising finding revolved around food. While the homeless were on average dissatisfied with their income and housing conditions, they reported above-neutral levels with regard to food. Several explanations could explain for this finding, including a belief that their expectations were so low to begin with that any food was appreciated. It could also be explained by the fact since they were so hungry, they were more likely to enjoy the food they did receive.

Perhaps the most interesting finding was that the Calcutta groups reported high life satisfaction, despite their terrible environmental conditions. One possible reason — the Calcutta groups demonstrated strong social relationships, which may help protect them against the negative psychological effects of poverty.

The conclusion by researchers? Liking oneself may not be enough to counterbalance the psychological harm of material deprivation, but good social relationships just might.

SOURCE: The Subjective Well-Being of the Homeless, and Lessons for Happiness by Robert Biswas-Diener and Ed Diener

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Another profoundly unhappy young adult or youth has caused unfathomable tragedy and sadness.

An individual or small group, almost always male, unleashes a torrent of violence and death that stretches far beyond the brief, but widespread notoriety that ensues. Left in its wake is the very simple observation — we seem to be at a loss as to how to stop or prevent it.

But there are clues, even if only breadcrumbs.

The Omaha young man was apparently depressed, and he had recently lost two important satisfaction resources — his job and girlfriend. There were also apparently familial conflicts and self-esteem issues. Life had no meaning. In other words, many of the things that help make the rest of us happy or satisfied (even if minimally) were missing — gone. Combine those elements with the desire for notoriety and the access to weapons and we have the perfect recipe for disaster.

Reasonably satisfied or happy young adults are less likely to randomly kill strangers. Perhaps that is where we need to look harder for answers and solutions.

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Everybody experiences failure. It’s as natural and common as breathing air. But happier people seem have a different approach to life’s bruises than their less happier peers. They get over it.

In a series of experiments, researchers tested students in terms of how they handled tasks. Once the task was completed — regardless of the outcome — the researchers had the students evaluate their moods and self-confidence.

They discovered that after experiencing some kind of failure, happy people tended not to engage in negative self-reflection and were able to perform subsequent tasks without dwelling. The reverse was true for less happier people. Researchers surmise that a poor performance by less happy people led to them digging up memories of other past failures, thus further depressing the moods and self-confidence in them and impairing their present concentration and performance.

In other words, even though happy people experience failure like everyone else, they “resist giving failure more than its due amount of contemplation, thus compartmentalizing and limiting their disappointment.”

Source: The Art of Living by Dispositionally Happy People by Allison Abbe, Chris Tkach and Sonja Lyubomirsky

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No wonder religion plays a major part in the satisfaction and happiness of so many lives. It has it all.

Research, for example, has consistently shown the relaxation benefits of quiet contemplation, and a person in a relaxed state is more likely to report being happy or satisfied.

But there’s more to religion than just prayer. In fact, the social aspects of organized religion may hold greater influence on well-being than just about anything else. Take a typical Sunday service. Families and friends come together, share pleasantries, and join in bringing meaning to their lives. All of those elements contribute to a person’s level of happiness. But even the service itself has satisfying elements, like the sound of music wafting through the facility or the heart-pumping intonation of a highly skillful preacher. The breakfast at the nearby restaurant after the service also adds to one’s satisfaction and happiness, as does the volunteer work on behalf of the church.

While certainly not the only source, the many faces of religious participation make it a powerful potential resource for improving one’s happiness.

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If men and women report equal levels of happiness, why do women experience more depression than men?

Researchers think the answer might be related to intensity of emotions and the roles women play in society.

According to researchers, women, on average, are more likely than men to report “higher levels of positive affect.” That is, they experience more intense positive emotions, which seem to balance out the negative emotions. And because women women are more likely to be open to intense emotional experiences, one theory suggests that this intensity makes them more vulnerable to depression if they encounter bad or uncontrollable events.

Another explanation revolves around the traditional role as caregiver that’s typically prescribed to women. The theory goes — since caregivers are expected to be more emotionally responsive, women may be more willing to express those emotions. In fact, regardless of a person’s gender, in experiments where participants were encouraged to be emotionally responsive, those same participants indicated more extreme emotions.

In other words, women are just as happy as men — only more so in the extreme.

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Self-deception may not be the most admired personality trait, but it can work wonders for your happiness.

Researchers say several factors are at work.

First, just because you are self-aware doesn’t necessarily translate into psychological well-being. Second, we all tend to see ourselves as better than others, even in the face of objective observations. Third, most people believe they are less likely than their peers to experience negative events in the future. But since not everyone’s future can be fantastic, as researchers Shelley Taylor and Jonathon Brown explain it — “the extreme optimism that individuals display appears to be illusory.”

And yet, there appears to be a correlation between positive well-being and these attitudes. Researchers believe happy people are more likely to have positive conceptions of themselves, a belief in their ability to control what goes on around them, and an optimism about the future — however illusory.

So if you still think you can write the next, great Pulitzer Prize-winning play — go for it. Even if it never comes true, you’ll still likely be a whole lot happier.

Source: Illusion and Well-Being: A Social Psychological Perspective on Mental Health by Shelley E. Taylor and Jonathon Brown in Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 103, Issue 2

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You’d think we’d know by now what works.

After all, hundreds of self-help books have been written about how to pursue happiness. Five easy steps. Seven knock-out strategies. The ultimate happiness guide. Feng Shui your way to happiness.

Scientific research, however, is much less confident.

For example, in 2006 researchers Chris Tkach and Sonja Lyubomirsky reported in the Journal of Happiness Studies correlations between increased happiness levels and these strategies: direct attempts at improving happiness, social affiliation, religion, partying and active leisure. However, the researchers were quick to point out in their study that these strategies may not cause happiness; they just appear to be strongly connected in some way. Furthermore, the results of the study were based on self-reports of happiness, which may or many not reflect reality. And finally, the study was conducted on undergraduate students, which may or may not accurately reflect a large cross-section of people, thereby making any generalizations difficult.

In other words, what works is still a very inexact science.

And yet, the books keep coming. Secrets keep getting revealed.

Let the buyer beware.

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If you want to be successful, first be happy.

Most people think it’s the other way around — that to be happy a person must first be successful.

But researchers, after looking a large number of studies, concluded that a positive mindset often precedes a successful outcome.

Why? They say the success of happy people rests on two factors.

First, because happier people experience more positive moods, they have a greater likelihood of working actively towards new goals while experiencing those moods. No surprise — this results in greater productivity. Second, happier people have built up a greater number of personal, social and professional resources while they were in their positive mood. As a result, they are more likely to tap into those resources when needed. While having a rich supply of resources doesn’t guarantee success, it can be of enormous help when one is dedicated towards achieving his or her goals.

How can this information help us?

Perhaps this research gives us permission to focus on our well-being first. All too often we focus on the end result, ignoring our mood along the way. So what if we’re not as happy while we’re climbing the ladder? We tell ourselves — find success and happiness will follow.

Now we know differently.

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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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