Archive | May, 2012

Is happiness only experienced by wealthy people?

30 May

Ed Diener is one of the worlds  greatest experts on happiness. He has travelled the world co-relating information on happiness in nations. He is Professor of psychology at the University of Illinois.

He was recently interviewed on the topic of happiness and subjective well being. Here is a an excerpt from the interview.

Q: What is the most interesting group you have studied?
A: My son, Robert Biswas-Diener, is collecting data among the Amish, and they are very different from most western respondents. We have collected data among prostitues and the homeless in the slums of Calcutta, as well as among the homeless in California. We have some data from the Masai in Africa, and are planning a larger project among the Masai. We are planning to collect data from the Greenlanders, the indigenous people from Northern Greenland, in 2002. We also have data on less “exotic” samples from a larger number of nations.
We have learned many interesting things from the “small cultures.” For instance, the Masai (in contrast to Americans) are extremely satisfied with their physical appearance. The thing that the California homeless miss most is not physical things such as good housing, but close and trusting friendships. Even though the Calcutta homeless are worse off physically than the California homeless (e.g., have less food), they are not as dissatisfied with life because they are more likely to have a strong social network. The Amish appear to be busy people who are rarely bored. For the Amish, satisfaction is in part a statement about their relationship to God. And so forth; from each of these groups we have learned important new things.

Q. What are the most important things scientists have learned about SWB?
A. We have learned some important things about SWB, but there is much that is still uncertain. Oftentimes people will ask us questions for which we simply have no good answer. But here are a few of the important things we have learned. Below I list my favorites:
1.  We seem to be able to measure the components of SWB with some level of validity.
2.  Temperament is an important predictor of a person’s SWB, but conditions can matter too. Some conditions have long-lasting effects on SWB (e.g., unemployment, living in a very poor nation), and many situations can dramatically influence SWB in the short run.
3.  Culture makes a difference to SWB; some cultures have higher levels of SWB than others. One reason for this seems to be that in some cultures happiness is valued more than in other cultures.
4.  People in unstable and very poor societies avow lower levels of SWB.
5.  The happiest people all seem to have good friends.
6.  On average most people are at least slightly happy. But everyone has up and down moods – nobody is happy every moment. Even the happiest people sometimes get unhappy.
7.  Negative and positive emotions are to some extent independent. Thus, one can have a lot of positive affect, but this does not tell us with certainty whether one is low on negative affect. Similarly, a person high in negative affect might also be high in positive affect. Thus, “happiness” cannot be simply understood as a single dimension, but is multidimensional.
8.  There seems to be no single key to happiness- no one thing that guarantees high SWB once you possess it. Instead, there are many necessary conditions that together seem to contribute to high SWB.
9.  High average positive affect is not a bad thing; instead, it seems to have desirable consequences (as outlined earlier). Furthermore, high SWB can follow from the values that people cherish, and is not simple hedonism.
10. Emotional intensity seems relatively independent of average happiness. Instead, happiness is based more squarely on the frequency of positive moods and emotions – on being in a good mood (even though not intense) most of the time.

The link to the rest of the interview can be viewed here.

%d bloggers like this: