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Science pursues happiness: happiness pays off, studies show. (Society).

Psychologists seeking the real secrets of happiness report that very happy people tend to be more extroverted and agreeable than less happy people.

"Our findings suggest that very happy people have rich and satisfying social relationships and spend little time alone relative to average people," write psychologists Ed Diener and Martin E.P. Seligman in the journal Psychological Science.

Solid social relationships do not guarantee happiness, but they are a significant contributing factor. The very happy people whom the authors studied all said they had good-quality social relationships. However, the authors write, there is no single key to high happiness. "High happiness seems to be like beautiful symphonic music--necessitating many instruments, without any one being sufficient for the beautiful quality."

Diener defines happiness as "subjective well-being"--in other words, the person evaluates his or her own quality of life. The question to ask is, "Is my life going well, according to the standards I choose to use?" If the answer is "yes," then that person is judged to be happy

Because people evaluate their lives based on happiness, subjective wellbeing is very important. Though necessary, it is not sufficient for having a good life. Subjective well-being "seems absolutely necessary for the 'good society,' although it is not sufficient for that society because there are other things we also value and would want in such a place," says Dienor.

Can subjective well-being--manifestly personal--be measured scientifically? Diener identifies three components contributing to happiness: pleasant emotions and moods, lack of negative emotions and moods, and satisfaction judgments, to which other factors--including optimism and feelings of fulfillment--may be added.

Happiness is not a constant. Happy people are sometimes unhappy, and vice versa. The very happy people identified by the study never reported their mood as "ecstatic," though they did report mood ratings nearly as high. This suggests that high happiness is not an abnormality and that the very happy react appropriately to life's ups and downs.

It may be in your interest to stay happy: According to Diener, happy people earn higher salaries and have stronger marriages. Their immune systems are stronger on average, and they may live longer.

Happiness in the workplace is just as important. Tentative research reported by Diener shows that unhappy individuals might not be as effective as happier people because they may spend too much time dwelling on trivial issues. Happy people perform well when motivated or challenged and working on complex tasks or multitasking.

There is no magic formula for happiness. Diener suggests steps you can take to ensure you are as happy as you can be. Surrounding yourself with good friends and family-- people who care about you and whom you care about--is a start. Involving yourself in activities you enjoy and value is also important; whether it's work or play, keeping busy in an environment enjoyable to you will contribute significantly to your subjective well-being. In addition, a healthy outlook is essential.

"We need to train ourselves not to make a big deal of trivial little hassles, to learn to focus on the process of working toward our goals (not waiting to be happy until we achieve them), and to think about our blessings (making a habit of noticing the good things in our lives)," Diener concludes.

Sources: "Very Happy People" by Ed Diener and Martin E.P. Seligman, Psychological Science (January 2002). Princeton University Department of Psychology, Princeton, New Jersey 08544. E-mail

Ed Diener, Department of Psychology, University of Illinois, 603 East Daniel Street, Champaign, Illinois 61821. Web site
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Author:Coles, Clifton
Publication:The Futurist
Date:Jul 1, 2002
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