This is a description of our important research
findings in several areas related to happiness.
Measuring Happiness (or Subjective Well-Being)
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
research with twins supports Lykken, Tellegen, and Bouchard's conclusion that
subjective well-being is in part genetically determined.
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.
comparisons can influence subjective well-being, but our studies indicate
that these effects are much less pervasive than is often presumed.
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
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.
happiest people all appear to have strong social relationships.
Happiness is Desirable
throughout the world, not just in the USA, believe that happiness is an
important and valuable goal.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Thus far our research has not found significant effects of language
translation or the use of indigenous (local) emotion words on the measurement of
Individuals who have been members of the Diener lab, who
were major contributors to the conclusions above: