First, psychologists study happiness because laypeople are interested in happiness. When people from around the world are asked to list the things that are most important to them, happiness consistently tops the list. People rank attaining happiness as being more important than acquiring money, maintaining good health, and even going to heaven. Psychologists believe that they can help people achieve this goal of being happy by studying the factors that are associated with happiness.
One of the most basic principles guiding psychological theory is that people and animals are motivated to approach things in the world that cause pleasure and to avoid things in the world that cause pain. Presumably, this behavior results from adaptive mechanisms that guide organisms toward resources and away from dangers. If so, the evaluative reactions of many people about the world should be useful and revealing.
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For instance, some psychologists have suggested that human beings have a basic need to experience strong and supportive social relationships. Thus, cataloging the correlates of happiness should provide important information about the features of human nature. The results of scientific studies reveal several trends. For instance, when researchers ask people to report on their happiness, their answers tend to be consistent over time: people who say they are happy now also tend to say that they are happy when asked again in the future.
Perhaps more importantly, when psychologists try to assess happiness in a variety of different ways, these measures all seem to converge on the same answer. For instance, when researchers ask people to provide self-reports of happiness, they tend to agree with informant-reports of happiness—that is, ratings provided by friends and acquaintances.
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Furthermore, psychological tests—such as those that ask subjects to list as many positive memories as they can within a minute—may also determine who is happy without even asking for an explicit judgment of happiness, and, again, these measures tend to agree with self-reports. Psychologists can even find evidence of happiness in the brain: certain patterns of brain activity are reliably associated with happiness. In addition, when psychologists ask people to rate their overall life satisfaction, most people report scores that are above neutral.
This research finding is not limited to relatively well-off samples like the college students who are often asked to participate in psychological studies. Instead, it has been replicated in many different populations in many nations around the world. Thus, when psychologists study the correlates of happiness, they are usually looking for factors that distinguish the very happy from the mildly happy rather than the happy from the miserable.
Psychologists have arrived at several surprising conclusions in their search for predictors of happiness. Many of the factors that may first come to mind do not seem to play a major role in happiness. For example, although people strive to acquire high-paying jobs and dream about winning the lottery, income is not strongly correlated with happiness.
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Wealthy people are happier than poorer people, but the difference is not very large. As one might expect, the association between money and happiness is strongest among very poor groups and among poor countries. Income leads to smaller and smaller gains in happiness as income levels rise.
Health also plays a role in subjective well-being, but the associations are, again, surprisingly small.
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In addition, although people with major health problems, such as paralyzing spinal-cord injuries, are quite a bit less happy than uninjured people, the difference is not as large as some might expect. Even people with very serious illnesses tend to report happiness scores that are above neutral. The factor that has been most closely linked to high levels of happiness is social relationships. Research consistently shows that people who have strong social relationships tend to report higher levels of well-being.
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As with other domains, subjective reports of relationship quality and relationship satisfaction tend to exhibit the highest correlations with subjective well-being. But even more objective measures, including the number of close friends a person has, the number of social organizations to which the person belongs, and the amount of time the person spends with others, all show small to moderate correlations with happiness.
As one might expect based on this research, specific types of social relationships are also important for subjective well-being. For instance, marital status is one of the strongest demographic predictors of happiness.
Married people consistently report higher levels of happiness than single people, who report greater happiness than the widowed, divorced, or separated. Interestingly, however, it does not appear that marriage itself causes higher levels of subjective well-being. Longitudinal studies show that people only receive a small boost in happiness around the time they get married, and they quickly adapt to baseline levels.
The differences between married and unmarried people are due primarily to the lasting negative effects of divorce and widowhood, along with selection effects that might actually predispose happy people to marry. Other demographic characteristics also show weak associations with happiness.
Well, even if we were, we've no right to get our happiness out of her suffering.
You know, and yet you'll take your happiness at the poor child's expense. Recommend him a day or two in the country, for the good of his health and our happiness. We all are. That complexity means that there are no simple, one-size-fits-all answers to what makes us happy. Our individual needs vary based on our genetics, how we were raised, and our life experiences.
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That complex combination is what makes each of us unique, both in our exact needs, and in every other aspect of what makes us the person we are. We may each be complex but we are all human and that provides the foundation on which we can discover our essential human needs. Just as we are all born looking human on the outside, we all share common basic needs on the inside.
Where we differ is exactly how strongly we feel each of those needs. I like to think of each of us like one of those big recording studio mixer boards, the ones with all the sliding controls and knobs, some of which interact with each other, some working separately, all working together to produce the final product. Each knob and slide may be set a particular way, the way that produces the person we are. We each have the same knobs and sliders but we each have them set a bit differently.
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Our current theory, largely based on new scientific discoveries about how the brain works and on current happiness theories, has identified 9 universal and overlapping human needs which go by the handy acronym WE PROMISE. These 9 categories cover the range of human needs in a very general way and are intentionally overlapping, just as our thoughts and feelings overlap in our mind. All these are experienced in one event, many at the same moment in time.