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So, happiness is good. But, how do we get it? Diener identifies five factors that contribute to happiness: social relationships, temperament/adaptation, money, society and culture, and positive thinking styles.
Happy people have strong social relationships. In one study conducted by Diener, the happiest 10 percent of the participants all had strong supportive relationships. A strong social network didn’t guarantee happiness, but it was a requirement to be in the happiest group. Temperament, which appears to have a genetic component according to several recent studies, also affects mood. Diener discussed the set point theory of temperament, which states that people have ups and downs in reaction to life events, but that they adapt and return to a set point. There is evidence for this, but studies have shown that people who have experienced a major loss, like being fired or losing a spouse, often don’t fully adapt or take years to do so. In Diener’s words, it’s more like “a moving baseline” than one set point over a lifetime.
Whoever said money can’t buy happiness needs to look at the research. According to Diener, wealth actually is correlated with happiness, particularly in poorer societies. But there are caveats. Money has declining marginal utility. Those first few dollars that move someone out of poverty contribute much more to a person’s happiness than a billionaire earning her next million. In fact, money can be toxic to happiness. When participants in one study were asked if money was more important than love, those who answered “yes” were less likely to be happy and seemed destined never to catch up to happiness no matter how much money they make.
The broader society also influences happiness. Some of the most familiar findings of well-being research are the happiness ratings by country. Denmark is the happiest, the U.S. is high but behind several European countries and Canada, and poverty stricken or war-torn nations are at the bottom. It may be harder for individualistic Westerners to see, but happiness depends not only on what is going on with your own temperament or life events, but is affected by the larger world around you.
Happiness is also affected by cognitive patterns — for example, seeing opportunities instead of threats and generally trusting and liking other people. Diener identifies three facets of this positive cognition: attention (seeing the positive and beauty in things), interpretation (not putting a negative spin on things), and memory (savoring past experiences rather than ruminating on negative experiences).
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