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Posts Tagged ‘Satisfaction’

We compare ourselves to others. We compare our houses, our cars, our success and even our kids. In some cases, it makes us feel better. We feel better when we compare ourselves to those people who don’t have what we have because it gives us self-enhancement or reassurance. It bolsters our self-esteem.

But the reverse works as well. We can often feel sad, depressed, jealous or angry when we compare ourselves “upward.”

The simple truth is — rightly or wrongly — we all learn not to judge our actions based on some internal measurement, but on the measurement of others.

A decade ago researchers took a closer look at this social comparison phenomenon and added to our knowledge of it.

They found that happy individuals seem to be less sensitive to unsolicited comparison information and less vulnerable to unfavorable comparisons than unhappy people. They also surmised that happy people tend to use such information sparingly and selectively. This approach seemed to protect a person’s well-being and self-esteem.

What was their observation?

While comparing to someone else’s success can be inspiring to us if looked at positively — focusing on one’s own outcomes, acknowledging the success of others without envy, and taking little satisfaction in the failures of others was perhaps a better prescription for happiness.

Source: Hedonic Consequences of Social Comparison: A Contrast of Happy and Unhappy People. Lyubomirsky, S., & Ross, L. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 1141-1157 (1997)

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Politicians who swear U.S. citizens will be happier if they just lowered taxes may want to give the people of Denmark a second look.

Based on world-wide surveys, the Danes typically rank the highest in happiness. And yet, they pay some of the highest taxes in the world — anywhere between 50 and 70 percent.

How can that be?

One possible reason — the government covers all health care and education, and it spends more on children and the elderly than any country in the world per capita. The citizens also say their system is efficient for its small population (5.5 million people).

But there may be another reason, according to this article. Since a banker can end up taking home as much money as an artist, people don’t chose careers based on income or status. Some Danes call it ‘Jante-lov,’ which translates roughly into “You’re no better then anybody else.” In other words, garbage collectors are just as valued as doctors or lawyers.

Another possible explanation for their happiness — Danes are very social. About 90 percent of them belong to some social club, many of which are paid for by the government. Shopping and consuming also is not a top priority. Along with less emphasis on “stuff” and a strong social fabric, the Danes also have a very high level of trust in each other and in their government.

All the necessary ingredients for a healthy, happy population.

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It turns out pleasure comes in a bottle — albeit an expensive one.

That’s what researchers discovered recently when they tested the neural activity of study participants after showing them expensive and inexpensive wines.

The results showed increased brain activity in the the medial orbitofrontal cortex — an area of the brain believed to encode pleasure related to taste, odors and music — when participants tasted “pricey” wines. They also found that inflating the price of a bottle of wine enhanced a person’s experience of drinking it, based on the corresponding neural activity.

But here’s the interesting part.

It was a blind taste test. Participants never knew the quality of the wine. They were just told the price. In fact, researchers presented two of the wines twice, once with the true price tag, and again with a fake one. They also passed off a $90 bottle of wine for one they said was $10 and showed a $5 dollar bottle as one costing $45.

Researchers say that their study demonstrates how subjective beliefs come into play with respect to the quality of an experience.

“If you believe that the experience is better, even though it’s the same wine, the rewards center of the brain encodes it as feeling better,” said Antonio Rangel, associate professor of economics at the California Institute of Technology and lead researcher.

Marketers have known this for years. This just confirms it.

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The probability of living longer increases by 14 percent for individuals with high well-being compared to those with low well-being.

Researchers reached that conclusion as a result of a sweeping meta-study several years ago. They looked at approximately 150 different experimental, ambulatory and longitudinal studies studies that have been conducted over the years that tested the impact of well-being on objective health outcomes.

The results showed that happiness does indeed link to short-term health outcomes, long-term health outcomes and disease or symptom control.

Also, one of the other interesting findings — happiness may improve our recovery time from a stressful situation. Cardiovascular and endocrine activity normally increases as a result of stress. But the researchers believe well-being may disrupt the chronic activity of that potential negative effect. These findings are consistent with another study in which heart activity returned more quickly to baseline (or normal) levels after watching positive, emotion-inducing films.

In other words, happiness may not prevent us from reacting to a stressful situation, which is, after all, a natural occurrence built into our DNA. However, a state of well-being can help us bounce back more quickly to a state of normalcy and not let the negative effects of stress take their toll over the long-term.

Just remember that the next time some nutcase cuts you off in traffic.

Source: Health benefits: Meta-analytically determining the impact of well-being on objective health outcomes. Howell, R. T., Kern, M. L., & Lyubomirsky, S. Health Psychology Review, 1, 1-54 (2007)

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On average, most people do not experience long-term changes in satisfaction following marriage.

That surprising conclusion was reached by researchers studying marital status and life satisfaction in a longitudinal sample of more than 1,500 people back in 2003. The researchers looked at how baseline levels of happiness change or don’t change based on dramatic life events, such as marriage, divorce or the death of a spouse.

For example, researchers say the study suggests that people who get married and stay married are more satisfied than average long before the marriage occurs. One possible reason — a person who is very satisfied with life prior to marriage probably already has a rich social network and thus has less to gain from the companionship of marriage. Thus, while marriage is a positive occurrence for those people, it’s not life changing. Conversely, a person who is lonely or less happy before marriage has much more to gain.

The results of this study tweak the notion that we all fall back into a “baseline” of happiness after a significant event occurs. The reality is more nuanced. Some people do resort back to previous levels of happiness after the initial phase of their marriage. In other words, they “settle in.” But others don’t. In fact, they report far lower levels of happiness after marriage than they experienced before marriage. One way researchers explain these differences is that while marriage can be very rewarding, it can also be very stressful to people and that stress may cause long-term damage to one’s overall satisfaction system.

To sum up — while marriage can be a life-changing experience (and not always for the better), it’s impact on our long-term happiness appears smaller than we realize, especially if we were pretty satisfied prior to going into it. That’s not to suggest marriage is a waste of time or not valuable. On the contrary. It’s a major satisfaction resource. But perhaps it means expectation levels should be tempered prior to this important event.

Source: Re-examining adaptation and the setpoint model of happiness: Reactions to changes in marital status. Lucas, R. E., Clark, A. E., Georgellis, Y., & Diener, E. (2003).  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 527-539.

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People can become happier and more grateful by simply counting acts of kindness for one week.

That’s the conclusion drawn by researchers who surveyed a group of Japanese undergraduate students and women.

They also found that that happy people are more kind in the first place and that they can become even happier, kinder and more grateful following this simple intervention.

Why does kindness have such a positive effect?

One reason might be that kindness is a valuable human strength and contributes to good social relationships. Another explanation revolves around the notion that positive emotions may lead people to make and solidify new bonds and to develop optimism and senses of identity and goal orientation. Therefore, if people “experience positive emotions and optimal social conditions as a result of their own kindness, an upward spiral may be created” (the broaden-and-build theory of subjective well-being).

Bottom line — count your acts of kindness for one week and see if it doesn’t make you feel better or happier.

Source: Happy People Become Happier Through Kindness: A Counting Kindness Intervention. Otake, K., Shimai, S., Tanaka-Matsumi, J., Otsui, K, & Fredrickson, B. L. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 361-375. (2006)

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Today’s youth may be surrounded by technological wizardry, but are they mentally healthy or flourishing?

We know some of them are clearly in an unhappy state. It’s estimated that two of every 10 children and youth will have had some form of mental illness and one in 10 children will have some episode of depression before their 14th birthday. But does the absence of mental illness suggest mental “healthiness?”

To answer these questions, researchers looked at data collected on more than 1,200 youth between the ages of 12-18.

They found that more youth (about one half) are moderately mentally healthy than are “flourishing” or mentally healthy (about 40 percent) , whereas a small portion are not mentally healthy and are languishing (about 6 percent). Not surprisingly, the study shows that young people between the ages of 12-14 (middle school) are flourishing the most, while the mental health in youth ages 15–18 is moderate. There appears to be about a 10 percent loss of flourishing between middle school and high school.

That’s unfortunate since the research also strongly implies that those young people who are flourishing “had the fewest depressive symptoms and conduct problems, and the highest levels of global self-concept, self-determination, closeness to other people, and school integration.” Conversely, young people who were considered “languishing” had the highest number of depressive symptoms and conduct problems.

The question is — what are we doing to evaluate whether or not a young person entering high school is more or less susceptible to the apparent “slippage” of his or her mental health? Can we prevent or retard this phenomenon?

Source: Mental Health in Adolescence: Is America’s Youth Flourishing? Keyes, Corey L. M. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, Vol 76(3), Jul 2006. pp. 395-402.

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