The Question of Happiness

[NOTE: This article was originally posted December 2010]

What a great time of year to think about happiness.  We can think about our own happiness, we can think about others’ happiness, but happiness is really nonexistent if not for research design.   A short look around the Web will prove the point that there are as many ways to think about the happiness question as there are positive psychologists, health providers, and a variety of researchers interested in our well-being.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Todd Kashdan tells us that the key to happiness is “harnessing and intensifying our curiosity” and that “curious people live longer and live better.”  The happiness question in this case might be: ‘How open are you to new experiences?’
  • A study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago and Shanghai Jiaotong University links happiness to “busyness,” i.e., people who stay busy are happier than people who are idle (“people dread idleness”).  So the happiness question could be, ‘What has been your degree of involvement with activities or tasks in the past week?’
  • Psychologist Harry Reis and his colleagues have concluded from their research that sharing good news with other people can increase our pleasure (happiness) with the events as well as our personal relationships.  So, if we want to assess happiness, maybe we should ask, ‘When and how often do you share news about something good in your life with another person?’
  • Stephanie Rosenbloom, from the New York Times, tells us in her article, “But Will It Make You Happy?”, that the road to happiness is lined with no more than 100 personal items, experiences (travel, hiking, entertainment) not things, anticipation of purchases not the purchases themselves, strong personal relationships, and a disregard for one-upmanship (keeping up with the Joneses).  In this case, the appropriate happiness questions might be: ‘How many personal items do you own?’ How big is your house?’ How often do you go on vacation and for how long?’
  • Geography researchers at the London School of Economics are looking at the relationship between how people feel and their environment. enables participants to download a free app to their iPhone from which they periodically report on their surroundings as well as how they are feeling at that moment.  How happy am I because of where I am?
  • Tom Anderson recently asked a happiness question on his LinkedIn discussion group.  The question was, “How happy/satisfied are you with your current job?” So, is happiness the same as satisfaction?  If I am satisfied, am I happy?
  • The Gallup World Poll finds a relationship between “life satisfaction,” happiness, and cold, hard cash (i.e., income).  But Gallup makes the greatest admission of all when it states that “happiness is elusive to define,” requiring more than a measure of wealth but six distinct indices of well-being – ranging from emotional health to the necessities of life – as well.

So, are you happy?

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