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What Recent Research Tell us about Happiness

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ChiroACCESS Editorial Staff



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March 7, 2013

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Historically, happiness has been the subject of commentaries and editorials but not a topic for rigorous research.  Now, there seems to be a relative explosion of “happiness” studies mirroring a biological growth curve.  From 1980 through 2000 the National Library of Medicine averaged only 30 scientific wellness articles per year but during the last two years there have been over 500 indexed.  The first half of 2013 is on target to break all records.

Happiness may arguably be the most important “biomarker” for humanity.  Let’s take a quick look at a few of the notable findings from the last couple of years of research:

  • Facebook and happiness: An interesting study from Utah Valley University of 425 undergraduate students noted that those that used Facebook for longer periods of time viewed others as being happier than themselves and that life wasn’t fair.  Also, those that spent more time weekly on Facebook agreed more with the statement that “others were happier and had better lives”.  Also, those that “included more people whom they did not personally know as their Facebook ‘friends’ agreed more that others had better lives.”
  • Doctor happiness:  Studies support that good relationships with family and others foster happiness.  In a study of medical doctors the authors concluded that “Older doctors are happier than younger doctors and GPs are generally happier than medical specialists. The determinants 'love and relationships' and ‘family' are the most important for doctors' happiness.
  • Several studies note the association between physical activity and happiness.  A new study looking at happiness between cycles of a national health survey demonstrated that “People who were inactive in 2 consecutive cycles were more than twice as likely to be unhappy as those who remained active in both cycles after 2 years.”  Another study assessing stress and happiness among adolescents found that “Adolescents who reported they participated in physical activity 2 to 3 times per week or more scored significantly lower on stress and higher on happiness than those who participated in physical activity 1 day per week or less.”
  • 437 medical professors in Denmark were surveyed with an “H” (happiness) index.  The authors reported that happiness “appears to be of influence on emotional exhaustion: a lower H index is associated with higher scores on emotional exhaustion while a high H index is associated with lower scores.”
  • Giving contributes to happiness: better to give than to receive.  A University of Pennsylvania study concluded that “participants who reflected about giving benefits voluntarily contributed more time to their university, and were more likely to donate money to natural-disaster victims than were participants who reflected about receiving benefits.” A complementary study from the University of British Columbia also concluded that “Giving leads to happiness in young children”.
  • Several studies suggest a “U” shape of human happiness with respect to age.  As a whole, we tend to be happier during middle age.  One of these studies noted that compared to other countries, middle age “American male birth-cohorts seem to have become progressively less content with their lives.”
  • Several new studies support the notion that genetics also play a role in happiness.

Note:  These mini-reviews are designed as updates and direct the reader to the full text of current research.  The abstracts presented here are no substitute for reading and critically reviewing the full text of the original research.  Where permitted we will direct the reader to that full text.

The MAOA gene predicts happiness in women.  [Link]

Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2013 Jan 10;40:122-5.

Chen H, Pine DS, Ernst M, Gorodetsky E, Kasen S, Gordon K, Goldman D, Cohen P.
Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics, College of Public Health, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL 33612, USA.

Psychologists, quality of life and well-being researchers have grown increasingly interested in understanding the factors that are associated with human happiness. Although twin studies estimate that genetic factors account for 35-50% of the variance in human happiness, knowledge of specific genes is limited. However, recent advances in molecular genetics can now provide a window into neurobiological markers of human happiness. This investigation examines association between happiness and monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) genotype. Data were drawn from a longitudinal study of a population-based cohort, followed for three decades. In women, low expression of MAOA (MAOA-L) was related significantly to greater happiness (0.261 SD increase with one L-allele, 0.522 SD with two L-alleles, P=0.002) after adjusting for the potential effects of age, education, household income, marital status, employment status, mental disorder, physical health, relationship quality, religiosity, abuse history, recent negative life events and self-esteem use in linear regression models. In contrast, no such association was found in men. This new finding may help explain the gender difference on happiness and provide a link between MAOA and human happiness.

Social skills, friendship and happiness: a cross-cultural investigation.  [Link]

J Soc Psychol. 2012 May-Jun;152(3):379-85.

Demir M, Jaafar J, Bilyk N, Ariff MR.
Northern Arizona University, Psychology Department, P.O. Box 15106, Flagstaff, AZ 86011-5036, USA.

The present study investigated the associations between social skills, friendship quality, and happiness, and tested a mediational model positing that friendship quality would mediate the relationship between social skills and happiness among American and Malaysian college students. Although American students reported significantly higher levels of psychosocial well-being than Malaysian students, the study variables were positively associated with each other in both cultures. More importantly, findings supported the proposed model in both groups. Results suggest that part of the reason why social skills are associated with positive psychological well-being is because of friendship experiences. Overall, the findings of the present study reinforce, extend and cross-culturally generalize the presumed benefits of social skills in positive well-being elaborated by Segrin and Taylor (2007). The authors also provided suggestions for future research.

Building a neuroscience of pleasure and well-being.  [Link]

Psychol Well Being. 2011 Oct 24;1(1):1-3.

Berridge KC, Kringelbach ML.
Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA.

BACKGROUND: How is happiness generated via brain function in lucky individuals who have the good fortune to be happy? Conceptually, well-being or happiness has long been viewed as requiring at least two crucial ingredients: positive affect or pleasure (hedonia) and a sense of meaningfulness or engagement in life (eudaimonia). Science has recently made progress in relating hedonic pleasure to brain function, and so here we survey new insights into how brains generate the hedonic ingredient of sustained or frequent pleasure. We also briefly discuss how brains might connect hedonia states of pleasure to eudaimonia assessments of meaningfulness, and so create balanced states of positive well-being. RESULTS: Notable progress has been made in understanding brain bases of hedonic processing, producing insights into that brain systems that cause and/or code sensory pleasures. Progress has been facilitated by the recognition that hedonic brain mechanisms are largely shared between humans and other mammals, allowing application of conclusions from animal studies to a better understanding of human pleasures. In the past few years, evidence has also grown to indicate that for humans, brain mechanisms of higher abstract pleasures strongly overlap with more basic sensory pleasures. This overlap may provide a window into underlying brain circuitry that generates all pleasures, including even the hedonic quality of pervasive well-being that detaches from any particular sensation to apply to daily life in a more sustained or frequent fashion. CONCLUSIONS: Hedonic insights are applied to understanding human well-being here. Our strategy combines new findings on brain mediators that generate the pleasure of sensations with evidence that human brains use many of the same hedonic circuits from sensory pleasures to create the higher pleasures. This in turn may be linked to how hedonic systems interact with other brain systems relevant to self-understanding and the meaning components of eudaimonic happiness. Finally, we speculate a bit about how brains that generate hedonia states might link to eudaimonia assessments to create properly balanced states of positive well-being that approach true happiness.

Marriage and mental health among young adults.  [Link]

J Health Soc Behav. 2012 Mar;53(1):67-83.

Uecker JE.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27514, USA.

Marriage is widely thought to confer mental health benefits, but little is known about how this apparent benefit may vary across the life course. Early marriage, which is nonnormative, could have no, or even negative, mental health consequences for young adults. Using survey data from waves 1 and 3 of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (n = 11,695), I find that married young adults exhibit levels of psychological distress that are similar to those of young adults in any kind of romantic relationship. Married and engaged young adults also report lower frequency of drunkenness than those who are not in a romantic relationship. Married young adults, especially those who first married at ages 22 to 26, report higher life satisfaction than those in other type of romantic relationships,those in no romantic relationship, and those who married prior to age 22. Explanations for these findings are examined, and their implications are discussed.

[Using functional MRI to measure happiness].[Article in Dutch]  [Link]

Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 2012;156(51):A5851.

Ter Horst GJ, Roosendaal SD, Algra PR.
Universitair Medisch Centrum Groningen, Department of Neuroscience, Neuroimaging Centrum, Groningen, the Netherlands.

In addition to MRI for use in diagnostic imaging we now also have functional MRI (fMRI) at our disposal. This can be used to map activity in different areas of the brain. Since its introduction, this technique has been used extensively in preoperative analysis of brain tumours. Emotional centres can also be mapped. Various applications and limitations of fMRI for studying emotions are discussed in this article.

Positive intelligence.  [Link]

Harv Bus Rev. 2012 Jan-Feb;90(1-2):100-2, 153.

Achor S.
Good Think.

Most of us assume that success will lead to happiness. Shawn Achor, founder of the corporate strategy firm Good Think, argues that we've got it backward; in work he's done with KPMG and Pfizer, and studies he's conducted in concert with Yale's psychology department, he has seen how happiness actually precedes success. Happy employees are more productive, more creative, and better at problem solving than their unhappy peers. In this article, Achor lays out three strategies for improving your own mental well-being at work. In tough economic times, they're essential for keeping yourself-and your team-at peak performance.

[The happy doctor]. [Article in Dutch]  [Link]

Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 2012;156(51):A5847.

van Dongen CM, van der Graaf Y.
Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

OBJECTIVE: Descriptive, questionnaire-based. To study what makes doctors and medical students happy: Descriptive, questionnaire-based. DESIGN: Descriptive, questionnaire-based. METHOD: For the purposes of this study, doctors and medical students completed an online questionnaire in the summer of 2012. They were presented with questions enquiring into general characteristics and into happiness. We asked them to define happiness, and to describe their happiest moments. The results were interpreted with the aid of simple statistics. RESULTS: 401 doctors, registrars and medical students took part in the study. 41% of the respondents were male and 59% female. Average age was 40 years. Students, GPs, anaesthesiologists and internists were the best represented. On average, the participants gave their 'happiness' a score of 7.6. The younger doctors (< 30 years) were slightly less happy (7.4) than doctors > 48 years (7.8), which also explains the relatively low scores for students (7.1). GPs were the happiest, with an average score of 7.9, closely followed by the 'other doctors', with an average score of 7.8, and the medical specialists (7.6). Within the specialties, bearing in mind that the low numbers means that results should be interpreted with some caution, the doctors with 'minority specialties' were the happiest, followed by internists and the supporting specialties. Psychiatrists and surgical colleagues can be found at the bottom of the list. The determinants 'love and relationships' and 'family' contribute the most to feeling happy. CONCLUSION: Older doctors are happier than younger doctors and GPs are generally happier than medical specialists. The determinants 'love and relationships' and family' are the most important for doctors' happiness.

[The happy scientist]. [Article in Dutch]  [Link]

Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 2012;156(51):A5715.

Tijdink JK, Vergouwen AC, Smulders YM.
VU Medisch Centrum, afd. Interne Geneeskunde, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

INTRODUCTION: The H-index is a frequently used scale to rank scientists on their scientific output. Whether subjective feeling of happiness is influenced by the level of the H-index on scientists has never been investigated. OBJECTIVE: To investigate the relation between the level of the H index as a measure of scientific success and feelings of unhappiness among Dutch professors. DESIGN: Descriptive; national online questionnaire. METHOD: All medical professors working at the Dutch university medical centres were invited to participate in an online questionnaire. Pressure to publish was measured by a questionnaire developed for this purpose and signs of burnout were measured on the Utrecht Burnout Scale. The area of emotional exhaustion on this scale was used to measure feelings of unhappiness. Every professor was asked for his or her H-index as an outcome measure. RESULTS: A total of 437 professors completed the questionnaire. Those in the highest tertile of the H index had significantly lower scores for emotional exhaustion (p < 0.025). Younger age was correlated with an, on average, higher score for emotional exhaustion. Professors with children living at home had a 25% higher score on emotional exhaustion than those who did not (p < 0.01). CONCLUSION: The H index appears to be of influence on emotional exhaustion: a lower H index is associated with higher scores on emotional exhaustion while a high H index is associated with lower scores.

Long-term association between leisure-time physical activity and changes in happiness: analysis of the Prospective National Population Health Survey.  [Link]

Am J Epidemiol. 2012 Dec 15;176(12):1095-100.

Wang F, Orpana HM, Morrison H, de Groh M, Dai S, Luo W.
Public Health Agency of Canada, 785 Carling Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A 0K9.

Happiness is among the most fundamental of all human goals. Although the short-term association between physical activity and happiness is well known, the long-term associations are not. Data from the National Population Health Survey cycles conducted between 1994/1995 and 2008/2009 (cycles 1 through 8) were analyzed. Happy respondents were classified as physically active or inactive at baseline and then were followed up in subsequent cycles to examine their likelihood of becoming unhappy. Individuals who changed their activity level also were examined. After controlling for potential confounding factors, the authors found that leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) was associated with reduced odds of unhappiness after 2 years and 4 years. People who were inactive in 2 consecutive cycles were more than twice as likely to be unhappy as those who remained active in both cycles after 2 years. Compared with those who became active, inactive participants who remained inactive were also more likely to become unhappy. A change in LTPA from active to inactive was associated with increased odds of becoming unhappy 2 years later. This study suggests that LTPA has a long-term association with happiness. Changes in LTPA are associated with subsequent mood status.

Beneficiary or benefactor: are people more prosocial when they reflect on receiving or giving?  [Link]

Psychol Sci. 2012 Sep 1;23(9):1033-9.

Grant A, Dutton J.
Management Department, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, PA 19104, USA.

Research shows that reflecting on benefits received can make people happier, but it is unclear whether or not such reflection makes them more helpful. Receiving benefits can promote prosocial behavior through reciprocity and positive affect, but these effects are often relationship-specific, short-lived, and complicated by ambivalent reactions. We propose that prosocial behavior is more likely when people reflect on being a benefactor to others, rather than a beneficiary. The experience of giving benefits may encourage prosocial behavior by increasing the salience and strength of one's identity as a capable, caring contributor. In field and laboratory experiments, we found that participants who reflected about giving benefits voluntarily contributed more time to their university, and were more likely to donate money to natural-disaster victims, than were participants who reflected about receiving benefits. When it comes to reflection, giving may be more powerful than receiving as a driver of prosocial behavior.

Happiness, Mental Health, and Socio-Demographic Associations Among a National Cohort of Thai Adults  [Link]

J Happiness Stud. (2012) 13:1019–1029

Vasoontara Yiengprugsawan, Boonchai Somboonsook, Sam-ang Seubsman, Adrian C. Sleigh

Research on happiness has been of interest in many parts of the world. Here we provide evidence from developing countries; this is the first analysis of happiness among a cohort of Thai distance learning adults residing throughout the country (n = 60,569 in 2009). To measure happiness, we tested use of the short format Thai Mental Health Indicators (TMHI), correlating each domain with two direct measures of happiness and life satisfaction. Several TMHI domains correlated strongly with happiness. We found the mental state and the social support domains moderately or strongly correlated with happiness by either measure (correlation coefficients 0.24–0.56). The other two TMHI domains (mental capacity and mental quality) were not correlated with happiness. Analysis of socio-demographic attributes and happiness revealed little effect of age and sex but marital status (divorced or widowed), low household income, and no paid work all had strong adverse effects. Our findings provide Thai benchmarks for measuring happiness and associated socio-demographic attributes. We also provide evidence that the TMHI can measure happiness in the Thai population. Furthermore, the results among Thai cohort members can be monitored over time and could be useful for comparison with other Southeast Asian countries.

Giving leads to happiness in young children.  [Link]

PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e39211.

Aknin LB, Hamlin JK, Dunn EW.
Psychology Department, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Evolutionary models of cooperation require proximate mechanisms that sustain prosociality despite inherent costs to individuals. The "warm glow" that often follows prosocial acts could provide one such mechanism; if so, these emotional benefits may be observable very early in development. Consistent with this hypothesis, the present study finds that before the age of two, toddlers exhibit greater happiness when giving treats to others than receiving treats themselves. Further, children are happier after engaging in costly giving--forfeiting their own resources--than when giving the same treat at no cost. By documenting the emotionally rewarding properties of costly prosocial behavior among toddlers, this research provides initial support for the claim that experiencing positive emotions when giving to others is a proximate mechanism for human cooperation.

How health care policy makers can make primary care physicians happy.  [Link]

Conn Med. 2012 May;76(5):303.

Volpintesta EJ.

Success /= happiness.  [Link]

J Am Coll Radiol. 2012 May;9(5):313-4.

Gunderman RB.
Department of Radiology, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN 46202-5200, USA.

Happiness and success: genes, families, and the psychological effects of socioeconomic position and social support.  [Link]

AJS. 2008;114 Suppl:S233-59.

Schnittker J.
Department of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, 3718 Locust Walk, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-6299, USA.

Although there is considerable evidence linking success -- including wealth, marriage, and friendships -- to happiness, this relationship might not reflect, as is often assumed, the effects of the proximate environment on well-being. Such an interpretation is contravened by evidence that both happiness and the environment are influenced by genetic factors and family upbringing. Using the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States, which includes a subsample of twins, this study evaluates the relationship between happiness and various features of success before and after eliminating the influence of endowments. The results suggest that many putative indicators of the environment are highly heritable and, indeed, that the same genes that affect the environment may affect happiness as well. Yet the results also suggest that the role of genetic endowments varies considerably across different features of success, suggesting complex patterns of selection, reinforcement, and causation among genes and the environment.

The benefits of frequent positive affect: does happiness lead to success?  [Link]

Psychol Bull. 2005 Nov;131(6):803-55.

Lyubomirsky S, King L, Diener E.
Department of Psychology, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521, USA.

Numerous studies show that happy individuals are successful across multiple life domains, including marriage, friendship, income, work performance, and health. The authors suggest a conceptual model to account for these findings, arguing that the happiness-success link exists not only because success makes people happy, but also because positive affect engenders success. Three classes of evidence--crosssectional, longitudinal, and experimental--are documented to test their model. Relevant studies are described and their effect sizes combined meta-analytically. The results reveal that happiness is associated with and precedes numerous successful outcomes, as well as behaviors paralleling success. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that positive affect--the hallmark of well-being--may be the cause of many of the desirable characteristics, resources, and successes correlated with happiness. Limitations, empirical issues, and important future research questions are discussed.

Is well-being U-shaped over the life cycle?  [Link]

Soc Sci Med. 2008 Apr;66(8):1733-49.

Blanchflower DG, Oswald AJ.
Department of Economics, Dartmouth College, USA.

We present evidence that psychological well-being is U-shaped through life. A difficulty with research on this issue is that there are likely to be omitted cohort effects (earlier generations may have been born in, say, particularly good or bad times). First, using data on 500,000 randomly sampled Americans and West Europeans, the paper designs a test that can control for cohort effects. Holding other factors constant, we show that a typical individual's happiness reaches its minimum - on both sides of the Atlantic and for both males and females - in middle age. Second, evidence is provided for the existence of a similar U-shape through the life-course in East European, Latin American and Asian nations. Third, a U-shape in age is found in separate well-being regression equations in 72 developed and developing nations. Fourth, using measures that are closer to psychiatric scores, we document a comparable well-being curve across the life cycle in 2 other data sets (1) in GHQ-N6 mental health levels among a sample of 16,000 Europeans, and (2) in reported depression-and-anxiety levels among 1 million UK citizens. Fifth, we discuss some apparent exceptions, particularly in developing nations, to the U-shape. Sixth, we note that American male birth-cohorts seem to have become progressively less content with their lives. Our results are based on regression equations in which other influences, such as demographic variables and income, are held constant.

Hypertension and happiness across nations.  [Link]

J Health Econ. 2008 Mar;27(2):218-33.

Blanchflower DG, Oswald AJ.
Department of Economics, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755, USA.

In surveys of well-being, countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands emerge as particularly happy while nations like Germany and Italy report lower levels of happiness. But are these kinds of findings credible? This paper provides some evidence that the answer is yes. Using data on 16 countries, it shows that happier nations report systematically lower levels of hypertension. As well as potentially validating the differences in measured happiness across nations, this suggests that blood-pressure readings might be valuable as part of a national well-being index. A new ranking of European nations' GHQ-N6 mental health scores is also given.

Stress and happiness among adolescents with varying frequency of physical activity.  [Link]

Percept Mot Skills. 2011 Oct;113(2):631-46.

Moljord IE, Moksnes UK, Eriksen L, Espnes GA.
Department of Nidaros DPS, Division of Psychiatry, St.Olavs University Hospital, Trondheim, Norway.

The aim of this cross-sectional study was to investigate associations between physical activity, stress, and happiness, as well as possible sex and age differences on these variables in a survey of 1,508 adolescent pupils (13 to 18 yr.) in middle Norway. Adolescents who reported they participated in physical activity 2 to 3 times per week or more scored significantly lower on stress and higher on happiness than those who participated in physical activity 1 day per week or less. There was no significant difference on stress and happiness between those being physically active 2 or 3 times a week and those being active almost every day. There was no sex difference in physical activity frequency. Girls had higher mean scores on stress, and boys scored higher on happiness. Adolescents 15 to 16 years old showed higher stress scores than those 17 to 18 years old, but there were no significant differences between the different age groups when looking at happiness and physical activity. A statistically significant two-way interaction of sex by age was found on both stress and happiness.

"They are happier and having better lives than I am": the impact of using Facebook on perceptions of others' lives.  [Link]

Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2012 Feb;15(2):117-21.

Chou HT, Edge N.
Department of Behavioral Science, Utah Valley University, Orem, Utah 84058, USA.

Facebook, as one of the most popular social networking sites among college students, provides a platform for people to manage others' impressions of them. People tend to present themselves in a favorable way on their Facebook profile. This research examines the impact of using Facebook on people's perceptions of others' lives. It is argued that those with deeper involvement with Facebook will have different perceptions of others than those less involved due to two reasons. First, Facebook users tend to base judgment on examples easily recalled (the availability heuristic). Second, Facebook users tend to attribute the positive content presented on Facebook to others' personality, rather than situational factors (correspondence bias), especially for those they do not know personally. Questionnaires, including items measuring years of using Facebook, time spent on Facebook each week, number of people listed as their Facebook "friends," and perceptions about others' lives, were completed by 425 undergraduate students taking classes across various academic disciplines at a state university in Utah. Surveys were collected during regular class period, except for two online classes where surveys were submitted online. The multivariate analysis indicated that those who have used Facebook longer agreed more that others were happier, and agreed less that life is fair, and those spending more time on Facebook each week agreed more that others were happier and had better lives. Furthermore, those that included more people whom they did not personally know as their Facebook "friends" agreed more that others had better lives.
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1 Comment on:

What Recent Research Tell us about Happiness

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Re:What Recent Research Tell us about Happiness

by denniskemp   (9/11/2019 12:43:43 AM)
It's more so saying that happiness is the actual true background of life and pursuing the concept of happiness only adds more mental limitations so you can't feel the bliss other animals feel naturally by just not thinking at all. You should expect a chicken to be extremely happy because its body is designed to peck at the uk essay writer ground all day so well that thoughts aren't needed, they just blissfully exist.