Tag Archives: Happiness

What makes us happy on Valentine’s Day?

Cut-out book of Valentines circa 1940.

Valentine’s Day was established in honor of three early Christian martyrs named Saint Valentine, but today people celebrate romantic love or love more generally.  Since romance is so salient on this holiday, people who are single can feel ostracized and sometimes motivated to support an anti-love mantra.  I wonder if the second biggest Hallmark holiday is really worth the hype (either for or against). Is love or a partner really what makes people happy in life?

Perhaps one of the answers can be found by looking at one of the current hot topics in social psychology research: the intersection of emotion regulation and well being.  A quick look at the latest program from the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology reveals numerous talks and posters on the topic of mindfulness and emotion regulation.

A recent paper points to the importance of the perspective from which people try to adaptively reflect on their feelings.  According to Ayduk and Kross (2010), participants who analyzed negative experiences from a self-distanced perspective (versus a self-immersed perspective) were less likely to ruminate and reported less negative emotions.  Maybe people’s affective experiences on Valentine’s Day have more to do with how they think about their lives and less about relationship status.

Read more:

Ayduk, Ö. and Kross, E. (2010). Analyzing negative experiences without ruminating: The role of self-distancing in enabling adaptive self-reflection. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 841–854.

Meditation vs. Medication: Which Should You Choose?

Can we be too happy?

Happiness is the ultimate goal of life for many people. Just take a look at the hundreds of self-help books, motivational speakers, and life coaches whose primary goal is to improve subjective well-being and happiness. Even people who are already satisfied with their lives aspire to be happier. Early psychological research on happiness focused on identifying the factors that would allow people to achieve high subjective well-being. More recently, psychologists have begun to acknowledge that happiness is not just an end state that results when things go well. Instead, happiness may also be functional. For example, researchers have found that happy people did better on average than did unhappy people in the domains of work, love and health.

In light of these attempts to boost happiness, it is interesting to question whether being happier is always better. Oishi, Diener and Lucas’s (2007) study investigated the differences between moderately happy and very happy people to address questions about the optimal level of happiness. Their findings showed that people who experience the highest levels of happiness are the most successful in terms of close relationships and volunteer work, but that those who experience slightly lower levels of happiness are the most successful in terms of income, education, and political participation. They interpreted that the optimal level of happiness is likely to vary across individuals, depending on their value priorities. For those whose primary values center on achievement, moderately high levels of happiness may be optimal; for those individuals whose values give priority to close relationships and volunteer work, it is the highest level of happiness that appears to be optimal. In sum, their findings suggested that extremely high levels of happiness might not be a desirable goal. However, the critical question to answer is, “How much happiness is enough?”

Shigehiro Oishi, S., Diener, E., & Lucas, R.E. (2007). The Optimum Level of Well-Being: Can People Be Too Happy?  Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2, 346 – 360.

Are You Happy?

Don’t worry, Be happy?

On September 30 Wiley-Blackwell announced the winner of their inaugural Wiley Prize in Psychology — Professor Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania and Director of the Positive Psychology Center. While his career contributions are certainly immense, other scholars and, most recently, popular authors, have turned a critical eye to positive psychology.

In an 2008, Dana Becker and Jeanne Marecek published an article questioning positive psychology, particularly its emphasis on individual success and development and what they perceive to be a disconnect with the realities of social institutions and sociocultural power.  Popular author Barbara Ehrenreich has a new book coming out this month, “Bright-Sided”, in which she questions the entire “happiness” movement, including positive psychology and the way in which it has taken self-help into the academic realm.

While Becker and Marecek are not against the idea of “human flourishing,” they see it “not as a matter of private satisfaction, but as a matter of the collective welfare.” This idea is particularly relevant in the current global recession and the discourse of individualism is also prominent in U.S. debates on healthcare. In the U.S., where “boot-straps” philosophy reigns supreme, Becker and Marecek argue that the suggestion “that self-help excercises can suffice in the absence of social transformation is not only short signted but morally repugnant.”

Thus we, as humans living in our societies and bound by institutions, have to ask ourselves the extent to which personal happiness and a sense of fulfillment is tied to broader social influences. Can we “will” ourselves to be happy through the use of affirmations, or are we simply creating convenient illusions to persevere through difficult times?

square-eye Becker and Marecek. (2008). Dreaming the American Dream: Individualism and Positive Psychology.

square-eye Wiley Prize in Psychology Announcement

Governments Sanction Happiness

EnthusiasticBillyMurrayA new political trend appears to be evolving—the search for happiness. A case in point is the country of Bhutan, which measures “gross national happiness” according to NPR and Sheldon and Lyubomirsky (2007). An NPR story reported how the country of Bhutan is growing alternative resources to reduce the cutting down of its forests. The depletion of forests may reduce the countries happiness the story reports. On the same note The Associated Press, reported that French President Sarkozy declared that happiness should be implemented as part of an economic indicator.  For instance, it is noted that factors such as “distribution of wealth and income, education, health and leisure” would be considered instead of GDP.

The search for happiness seems to be elusive even for those who study the concept, according to Sheldon and Lyubomirsky (2007). One similarity in the review was that happiness does depend on factors such as the distribution of wealth, income, education, health and leisure and so on. Sheldon and Lyubomirsky (2007) also noted however that when everything is equal other variables are more important. The authors conclude that the search for happiness starts at an individual level with consistent pursuit and appropriate goals. However the governments opening up the discussion may be the start of the pursuit of happiness.

square-eye Read more:  “Bhutan Hopes Bamboo Boosts National Happiness”

square-eye Read more: The Associated Press: Sarkozy wants happiness used as economic indicator.

square-eye Sheldon, K.M., Lyubomirsky, S. (2007) Is it possible to become happier? (And if so, how?)

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