The Science of Happiness
and Well Being?
By Kevin Hogan
What Was Actually Learned?
So what do I learn if I ask you what your level of happiness was yesterday?!
Absolutely nothing because the answer doesn't tell any researcher...anything. If you were asking
something that could be answered in some objective way, even that would be more complex than it
seems. Example? What was your body temperature yesterday?
You might respond 98.6 or whatever you often see your temp run at.
(Me? 97.4) But the fact is that it's not 98.6 or 97.4, it's significantly different
when you wake up than at midday.
Every researcher knows that the person will be cued for responses indicating
greater happiness than is accurate and because
it is not measuring THIS MOMENT which actually COULD be valuable
information, it's simply cued recall.
"Name an animal you saw yesterday."
Cued recall. You don't answer dog, the kids, gold. You answer with an animal.
Ask a person how happy they were yesterday and the brain does a lightning
search for happy moments almost completely filtering out unhappy moments and then the brain does this rapid fire contrastive analysis of cued information.
Thankfully no one makes policy based on my body temperature...or
what animals they bring to mind.
There IS One Good Question
Let's look at the question that the government is posing that has the POTENTIAL
for having some value in the response.
Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your
life are worthwhile?
This is a very good question to ask someone in a non-therapy, non-
crisis situation. It is sure to make most people feel better than they actually are. And the
more people looking over our shoulder the more worthwhile I think
the things I do are important.
Even though there is no "data" to be acquired and nothing to be learned
from it, it is a hypnotic question becuase it directs your mind toward "the right answer." And in this case the right answer gives you a feeling of self worth and self fulfillment and those are very good things indeed.
Take the same person an hour later and ask them the same question in therapy,
and well...you get the opposite answer and the stories to match.
But surely, we must learn SOMETHING from these questions.
There must be some average or SOMETHING that matters.
There is not.
There is nothing that can be gained.
For the sake of a deeper understanding of happiness, life satisfaction and well being, I'm going to
run with the idea that it matters a lot and that people respond as
they have been shown to respond to similar/same questions in the past...because questions like this have been asked around the world to people in deprivation and poverty...and the questions have been asked of the very wealthy and everyone in between.
Does Money Matter?
All of that past research (which I will show you in chart form in a minute) has been done and the data has been collected. I will say that I did find
some things of interest in the reports from the Gallup Organization. And I'll share that shortly as well.
All kinds of research shows that people report higher levels of happiness
and life satisfaction when they earn closer to $75,000 per year. In fact, as
they approach $115,000 per year in the UK (70,000 GBP) they tend to
have even greater life satisfaction than at all other income levels below that number.
In the UK, about 20% of families earn $75,000+
Just for the heck of it, imagine that measures of happiness
(whatever they might be) begin to tail off after someone is
earning > $75,0000 per year.
I believe it was Daniel Gilbert, the author of the brilliant, Stumbling on Happiness; who made the distinction between Life Satisfaction. And as I recall,
he indicated that happiness peaks around 75,000 per year but Life Satisfaction continues to rise with income.
In this case, you HAVE learned one thing. Today's "happiness level"...whatever "happiness" means...does indeed
correlate to your current income.
That is the FIRST fact that you can actually pull from research done in recent years.
Forget the money for a minute.
The government of the U.K. wouldn't be doing the research if the economy was excellent and investments were thriving.
But the fact they are doing the survey at all is bizarre because
these "Life Satisfaction" surveys are given all around the world
every year...even in the U.K.!
The questions asked by Gallup all around the world roughly come down to this:
Write down the number that best fits you.
On a scale of 1 - 10 how satisfied are you with your daily life?
What did you write?
Everyone writes 7. (Not really but you'd be amazed...how amazed?)
Why 7 and WHERE do they write 8!? ...
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