This week in positive psychology: What makes the young and the old happy

happiness research

Happy at any age – A study out of the Queensland University of Technology is looking at the factors that affect happiness in nursing homes. So far, researchers have found that happier residents tend to be the ones who have a positive attitude, have structure and things to look forward to, connect with residents and staff, feel safe and comfortable, and have privacy and independence.

Wait for it – Extending the finding that experiences make us happier than material things, researchers have found that waiting to buy experiences is more pleasurable than waiting to buy things. Anticipation can be positive, but it depends on what you’re waiting for.

Outside academia:

Unhappy childhood – The Children’s Society ranked 39 countries based on children’s well-being and found that the US, Canada, and the UK fell below average (see page 30). In the UK, this was due to poor body image.

Fun in the sun – A Nielsen study found that people who commit to vacations at least once a year tend to be happier and healthier, and have better relationships. Yet half of respondents don’t take all their vacation days, leaving an average of 7+ days unused.

I’m happier than you – A study out of the Korea Development Institute found that people who tend to compare themselves to others are less satisfied with life. Competitiveness was measured from 1-5 and happiness from 1-10, and 1 point more competitiveness correlated with 0.237 points less happiness.

Photo by Flickr user Patrick Q



This week in positive psychology: The keys to happier marriage and parenthood

Happiness research

Before “I do” – The University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project released a study looking at how different factors affect marriage quality. They found that better marriages were correlated with having fewer sexual partners before marriage (for women), making deliberate decisions about relationship milestones, and having lots of guests at your wedding.

After kids – Parenthood isn’t always a burden. A study out of the University of California-Riverside found that parents tend to be happier if they are older, male, and secure about their relationships; if their children are easy-tempered and older; and if they have social support and are still married.

Big, happy government – A study out of Baylor University found that people are happier when they live under governments that spend more money on social services.

Positive attitude – A study out of the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine found that schizophrenics are happier than you might think. 37 percent of patients report being happy all or most of the time, and happiness was correlated with “positive psychological and social attributes such as resilience, optimism and lower perceived stress” rather than severity of illness.

Photo by Flickr user Premshree Pillai

This week in positive psychology: Make time for community service, video games, and sex

Happiness research

Get it on – Research out of the University of Colorado Boulder found, unsurprisingly, that having more sex is linked with higher well-being. But so is thinking you’re having more sex than other people, while people who believe they are having less sex than their peers are less happy.

Game on – A University of Oxford study published in Pediatrics found that children and teenagers who play an hour or less of video games per day are 10-15% happier. But playing more than three hours a day is associated with less satisfaction.

Outside academia:

Help thy neighbor – A poll by Gallup found that adults who have been recognized for community service score 70.0 on the Well-Being Index, while those who haven’t score 58.5. Although a causal relationship hasn’t been established, one of the mechanisms might be that community service reduces stress and worry.

The young and the stressless – A poll of 2,000 women by Inner Me found that women are happiest at 25 but most stressed at 34 due to factors like work-life balance, finances, and health.

Photo by Flickr user Tom Newby Photography

This week in positive psychology: The “happiness equation” says lower your expectations

Happiness research

Lower your expectations – A study out of University College London came up with a “happiness equation” encapsulating their findings: we’re happier when we do better than expected. The context here was playing a game, first in the lab and then on an app.

Hit the beach – together – A study out of Uppsala University in Sweden found evidence for “collective restoration,” the idea that the happiness boost of vacation is amplified when more people take vacation at the same time. More vacationers correlated with a drop in anti-depressant prescriptions.

Lighter people aren’t lighter – Research published in PLOS ONE found that people who lost 5% or more of their weight over four years were more likely to be depressed than people who stayed within 5% of their weight. The study looked at around 2,000 overweight and obese people.

Don’t ignore stress – A study out of the University of Cincinnati found that students who are less happy are also more stressed and less emotionally close to others. But not many were taking action: while 61 percent had high stress, 72 percent didn’t use stress-management techniques often.

Outside academia:

Play – A study from the Children’s Play Policy Forum found that play coincides with better mental health and emotional well-being for children. School playgrounds correlated with better academic skills, attitudes and behaviors, social skills, and adjustment to school life. The effects of play also spread to the broader community, with playgrounds linked to family well-being and community spirit.

Photo by Flickr user KaiChanVong

This week in positive psychology: Material things can make us happy

Happiness research

This is a weekly series on the latest happiness research. Learn and be merry! 

Materialists, rejoice! – It’s long been believed that money can bring us happiness if we spend it on experiences, not things, but a recent study from San Francisco State University challenges that notion. Researchers discovered that “experiential products” like books, video games, or sporting equipment provide the same happiness boost but through a different mechanism. Experiences and experiential products both express our identity, but experiential products tend to enhance our feelings of competence and experiences bring us closer to others.

Happy words – A study out of the University of Vermont found that we have a universal bias for positive language. After asking native speakers to rank words for positivity, they analyzed 100,000 words in 24 classic novels in 10 languages.

Get your heart pumping – in a good way – A study out of Queen’s University found that exercise reduced the “facing the viewer” bias, where we perceive ambiguous figures as walking toward us (and thus more threatening) rather than away from us. This suggests that exercise may actually decrease anxiety by reducing our perception of threats in the environment.

No news is good news – A study out of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business found that finding out early that you’ll achieve a goal – before you actually get the job or win the game – decreases positive emotion at that moment and when you actually achieve it. Researchers believe that we expect goal attainment to follow a particular script, and we try to repress positive emotion until the appropriate time (i.e., when the goal has been achieved).

Outside academia:

Perk up your workforce – A study by office supplier Viking found that companies with 50 or fewer employees can increase happiness by 35% by spending about $800 per employee on training and social events. They believe this shows that employers value their employees. In contrast, a pay raise of over $8,000 only increases happiness by about 3%.

Sunshiney day – A poll by Garnier Ambre Solaire found that Britain’s heat wave was making the country feel happier, healthier, and less stressed (surprise, surprise).

Edited photo by Flickr user Thomas Hawk