The Art of Strengths Coaching

D is for Ed Diener: His Research On Happiness

Ed is a pioneer in the field of positive psychology. Sometimes introduced as ‘Doctor Happy’, he continues to focus on how people can develop their sense of wellbeing and happiness in life.

He is the Joseph R. Smiley Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. In the video above he describes his research about happiness in countries around the world. Here is a sample of the findings.

Denmark often rates highly as one of the happiest country in the world. Ed says that, to some extent, this is because: ‘the Danes trust each other’. Poor people in Denmark are relatively happy, largely because there’s a strong social safety net.

Economic growth doesn’t necessarily drive up happiness. People do need a sustainable income in their society but, beyond a certain figure, more money does not necessarily increase happiness.

People in highly competitive societies, for example, are often comparing themselves against others. Happy individuals, on the other hand, are often comfortable with themselves. They aim to become the best  kind of person they can be, rather than judge themselves against others.

Positive relationships with others are important. In Costa Rica, for example, people help each other. They also enjoy life and celebrate a lot. At the other end of the scale, political repression and poverty often lead to people feeling unhappy.

Here is a more in-depth analysis of the factors that influence whether people are happy.

Measuring Life Satisfaction

Ed is the co-author of a questionnaire that people can use to measure their life satisfaction. He has made this publicly available and it was used, for example, during the BBC Television series The Happiness Formula. Here is the questionnaire.

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Ed worked together with his son, Robert Biswas-Diener, to publish Happiness: Unlocking The Mysteries of Psychological Wealth. Here they explain some key themes in the book.

Psychological wealth is more than money. It is also your attitudes, goals and engaging activities at work.

Happiness not only feels good, it is also beneficial to relationships, work and health.

It is helpful to set realistic expectations about happiness. No one is intensely happy all of the time.

Thinking is an important aspect to happiness. Our theory of Attention, Interpretation, and Memory (AIM) helps readers increase their psychological wealth.

Several myths are addressed in this book: Does money buy happiness? Is there a happiness set-point? Is happiness a personal pursuit? The authors go on to give more details. These include the following points.

We present the research showing the benefits of happiness to health, work and relationships.

We discuss the need for ‘negative emotions’.

We show the danger of averages when applied to individuals, such as for religion or marriage. Although married or religious people might on average be happier, this may or may not apply to specific individuals. There are dangers in using the group averages from research and applying them to individuals.

We present self-scoring measures for 7 variables, for positive and negative emotions, psychological well-being, positive attitudes, and so forth.

We expose myths such as the “Set-point,” that says happiness is unchanging and caused by temperament, and the myth that money does not aid happiness.

Another myth is that happiness is completely within the individual (it certainly partly is) but the society in which one lives can make a huge difference too.

We have a lot of fun stories, for example from our travels collecting data around the world.

You can discover more about Ed’s work via the following links. The first his to his academic biography, the second to the website devoted to the pursuit of happiness.

Finally, here is a video of Ed talking about happiness and its causes.

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