10 Surprising Findings on Happiness

Unlocking the riddle of what makes humans happy is the subject of much research, aimed perhaps at finding a formula or creating a map to help us in this endless and universal quest. The following are 10 recent studies that examine the factors at play in human happiness.

1. Disproving the myth of the grumpy old man…

Stanford research conducted over a period of a dozen years suggests that age brings increased happiness, balance, and even ability to get along with others – contradicting the stereotype of the grumpy old man. That comes as good news to a society that is, itself, growing older; baby boomers can look forward to leaving behind the frustrations and let-downs of youth, and gain an appreciation for each moment as the time to enjoy them dwindles.

2. Keeping up with the Joneses…

A massive global study into the connection between income and satisfaction levels seems to disprove the old adage that money can’t buy happiness, instead showing that the proverbial “Joneses” remain the yardstick by which we judge satisfaction with our own lives. Over the course of two years, Gallup polled nearly 140,000 people in 132 countries to paint the most accurate portrait yet of how humans define happiness, revealing a universal link with the notion of the good life.

3. Time for a raise…

According to Princeton research involving 450,000 Americans, an income of $75,000 a year is key to the happiness equation, representing freedom from money woes; drop below that level, and your happiness plummets while stress and sadness increase. Although momentary moods are not apparently elevated by even higher incomes, a more profound sense of life satisfaction seems to be the reward as you climb the earnings ladder.

4. Adding kids to the equation…

A report in the Journal of Happiness Research contradicts anecdotal evidence and earlier studies that suggest children bring more stresses than pleasures. In fact, based on nearly 90,000 observations, author of the study, Luis Angeles, finds that marital status is key to whether kids enhance or detract from happiness, actually increasing satisfaction levels in marriage; however, this is an overall measure – when it comes to social life, for instance, kids can be a real downer.

5. Feeling the burn…

Although those who participate in fitness activities commonly report that doing so improves mood, Dutch research on twins and their families concludes there is no causal effect. In the study, those who tended to avoid exercise manifested a greater incidence of depression, but the link was genetic – so for those who are already feeling blue, money spent on a gym membership might be better used for traditional therapy, including anti-depressants.

6. Location, location, location…

A Gallup study of 155 countries found that Scandinavians are the cheeriest bunch on the planet, while Africa is a hotbed of suffering. Less expected findings included the poor showing by Asian powerhouses, China, India and Japan – while the US managed only a fifth place finish just in the Western hemisphere.

7. When feel-good philosophies fail…

Research reported in Psychological Science refutes the feel-good platitude popularized by Norman Vincent Peale in The Power of Positive Thinking, suggesting that those with lower self-esteem only feel worse following a round of self-affirmations. The latest studies reinforce the new direction in therapy that advises acceptance of your negative self-talk; gaining a truer perspective may be more productive than reciting affirmations about self-worth that simply don’t ring true.

8. The overstated importance of happiness…

The fixation on achieving the elusive state of happiness is probably counterproductive, and so is the pressure to participate in feel-good activities like volunteering. In an ongoing study called MIDUS (Mid Life in the US), eudaimonic well-being (“well-being that comes from engaging in meaningful activity”) is replacing happiness as the ideal goal, and it seems to originate in the pre-frontal cortex where high-level thought takes place – allowing people to realistically evaluate situations and find challenges instead of obstacles.

9. The health-happiness link…

A number of studies show a strong connection between health and happiness, including research at Carnegie Mellon that found subjects identified with positive emotional traits proved more resistant, and suffered fewer symptoms, when exposed to cold and flu germs. Another study, reported in The American Journal of Health Promotion, followed up with approximately 10,000 Australians to compare self-reported life satisfaction with future health, and found that happy respondents reported a 160% greater incidence of good health.

10. The unhappy mind-wanderer…

Harvard researchers utilizing an iPhone app called Track Your Happiness to gather real-time reports of feelings from 250,000 participants worldwide found that sex, exercise, conversation and music-listening headed the happiest activity list, while personal hygiene, commuting and working were the biggest bummers. Curiously, the less happy the activity, the more the mind wanders; furthermore, their findings show that daydreaming actually causes dissatisfaction – proving that real happiness is indeed achieved by living in the moment.

Do you agree with these findings? Please share your thoughts below.

Charles Sipe enjoys listening to audiobooks, blogging, and playing basketball. He also writes for Teacher Certification Degrees, an informational site on how to become a teacher in each state.

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