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Discoveries at the Diener's Lab


 This is a description of our important research findings in several areas related to happiness. 

Defining and Measuring Happiness (or Subjective Well-Being)

 Popular writers focus on the causes of happiness, but defining and measuring it is a more basic first step for the advance of a science of happiness.

  1. We have found that most people around the world, except those living in dire circumstances, report being happy the majority of the time, but very few report being consistently elated or extremely happy. Thus, slight to moderate happiness is the rule rather than the exception.
  1. Life satisfaction, pleasant emotions, and unpleasant emotions are separable, different components of happiness and unhappiness. Life satisfaction differs from the affective components of happiness in that it is based on a reflective judgment. In addition, there is the distinction between eudaimonic happiness and hedonic happiness, the first being characterized more by virtue and reason, and the latter being characterized by pleasure. We argue that each facet of well-being is deserving of scientific study, regardless of which one researchers might argue is  true happiness
  1. Self-reports of subjective well-being have substantial validity, as demonstrated by their convergence with other types of measures such as informant reports and biological measures of well-being. Although certain response artifacts such as a respondents' current mood can bias the reports, we have found that these usually pose little threat to validity.
  1. We have used experience-sampling (the repeated recording of emotions at random moments over time) to assess well-being, and have developed additional measures based on memory for good versus bad events, and satisfaction of global versus specific aspects of life. We also created a 5-item scale to assess life satisfaction (the SWLS), and this measure has shown substantial validity.
  1. Besides components of well-being such as pleasant affect and life satisfaction, happiness can be divided into on-line (momentary) feelings, the later recall of those on-line feelings, and broad evaluations of life. These three forms of happiness differ in systematic ways. For example, sometimes recall predicts future behavior better than on-line feelings, contradicting a simple Skinnerian view in which the experience of rewards automatically leads to behavior.
  1. People's moods frequently go up and down, but there is substantial stability over time and across situations in the average levels of mood and emotions that a person feels.
  1. Over time there is a tendency for people to use the same types of information in judging satisfaction with life, and therefore life satisfaction tends to be relatively stable in the short term (e.g., 1 year), but is somewhat less stable in the long term (e.g., 10 years) due to systematic changes that may occur in life conditions (e.g.,  widowhood or unemployment).
  1. In defining happiness, the frequency of positive emotional experience can be separated from its intensity. It appears that frequent positive feelings are sufficient for happiness without these experiences being intense. Levels of emotional intensity are independent of levels of happiness.

Causes and Processes

  1. Our research supports the idea of Costa and McCrae that personality factors such as extraversion and neuroticism are important determinants of happiness. Extraversion, for example, is related to feeling more positive emotions, and neuroticism is strongly related to feeling more negative emotions. The positive emotion component of extraversion is sufficient to explain the contribution of extraversion to life satisfaction, and the depression component of neuroticism is necessary and sufficient to explain the effects of neuroticism on life satisfaction.
  1. Our research with twins supports Lykken, Tellegen, and Bouchard's conclusion that subjective well-being is in part genetically determined.
  1. Although adaptation to conditions occurs, our research revises the idea of the "hedonic treadmill" in significant ways: A. People return to a personal set-point, usually in the positive zone, not to neutrality, and B. Certain life events can change a person's set-point, and this occurs for many individuals over a 15-year period. We now have substantial evidence that people do not completely adapt to all conditions.
  1. Social comparisons can influence subjective well-being, but our studies indicate that these effects are much less pervasive than is often presumed.
  1. Working toward goals and achieving them are sources of well-being, and because goals and values differ between people, the sources of happiness to some extent differ. But there are likely universal causes of subjective well-being too, such as quality social relationships and having basic physiological needs fulfilled.
  1. The relation between income and happiness is intricate. Although money is not on average a major source of the individual differences in well-being in wealthier nations, it can make a substantial difference in poor societies where basic needs are not fully met. Materialism, valuing money more than other things such as relationships, is usually a negative predictor of well-being. However, wealthy nations are considerably happier than very poor societies, although people in very poor cultures can be happy if their basic needs are met.
  1. The happiest people all appear to have strong social relationships.

Happiness is Desirable

  1. People throughout the world, not just in the USA, believe that happiness is an important and valuable goal.
  1. However, people want not just to be happy, they want to be happy for the right reasons - for things they value. Happiness is thus a moral imperative, not simply a hedonistic one. Happiness results from people's values.
  1. Not only does happiness feel good, but happy people appear to function better than unhappy people - making more money, having better social relationships, being better organizational citizens at work, doing more volunteer work, and having better health.
  1. Although happy people do better than unhappy people in most realms of life, a person need not be super-happy. In fact, we find that high achievers are often moderately or very happy, not extremely happy.
  1. Because happiness has beneficial consequences beyond feeling good, we have  proposed that nations should assess the subjective well-being of citizens just as they monitor the economy, to serve as information for policy-making, business leaders, and individuals.

Culture and Well-Being

1.      There are unique predictors of happiness in cultures. For example, we find that self-esteem, consistency, and purpose are weaker predictors of well-being in collectivist societies than in individualistic societies.

2.      We consistently find that Latin societies are happier than East Asian societies. Norms for feeling happy and unhappy also differ across nations, with those in Latin nations valuing positive emotions more than do East Asians.

3.      In terms of measuring happiness across nations, we find that there are certain pleasant and unpleasant emotions that cluster similarly in all areas of the world, and on which people can be compared universally, but that other emotions such as pride differ across cultures in whether they are seen as desirable and pleasant. Furthermore, cultures differ in the importance they assign to being happy compared to other values and goals.

4.      Work on life satisfaction across cultures suggests that people might use response scales differently, and react to items differently, calling for more sophisticated levels of analyses.

5.      People vary more in positive feelings across situations in some cultures than in others. Even though individuals tend to be consistent in their rank order of happy feelings, situations can exert a larger effect on moods in cultures (e.g., in East Asia versus the USA) where consistency is not highly valued.

6.      Thus far our research has not found significant effects of language translation or the use of indigenous (local) emotion words on the measurement of well-being.

Copyrighted by Ed Diener, 2013
Permission to use granted, with acknowledgement that copyright held by Ed Diener

Individuals who have been members of the Diener lab, who were major contributors to the conclusions above:

Ed Diener                                             Chu Kim-Prieto

Ed Sandvik                                           Christie Scollon

Randy J. Larsen                                    Carol Diener

Robert A. Emmons                               Derrick Wirtz

William Pavot                                       Marissa Diener

Frank Fujita                                          Michael Eid

Eunkook Suh                                       Joar Vitterso

Shigehiro Oishi                                     Emily Solberg

Ulrich Schimmack                                William Tov

Richard Lucas                                      Larry Seidlitz

Robert Biswas-Diener                          Richard Smith

Liang Shao

©2009 Micaela Chan. All Rights Reserved.- Licensed under Creative Commons. Based on a work at