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Positive Psychology

Alan Carr’s Positive Psychology has become essential reading for anyone requiring
a thorough and accessible introduction to the field. This new edition retains all the
features that made the first edition so popular, including:

• accounts of major theories and relevant research

• learning objectives
• chapter summaries
• research and personal development questions
• suggestions for further reading
• measures for use in research
• a glossary of terms.

The book has also been completely updated to take account of recent research and
major advances, and includes a new chapter on positive psychotherapy, an extended
account of research on character strengths and virtues, and a discussion of recent
ground-breaking research on emotional intelligence.
This new edition of Positive Psychology will prove a valuable resource for psy-
chology students and lecturers, as well as those involved in postgraduate training in
related areas such as clinical psychology, social work, counselling, and psychotherapy.

Professor Alan Carr is the Director of the Doctoral Training Programme in Clinical
Psychology at University College Dublin and Consultant Marital and Family
Therapist at the Clanwilliam Institute for Marital and Family Therapy in Dublin.
Positive Psychology
The Science of Happiness
and Human Strengths
Second Edition

Alan Carr
First published 2011
by Routledge
27 Church Road, Hove, East Sussex BN3 2FA

Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada

by Routledge
711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017

Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an Informa business

Copyright © 2011 Alan Carr

The right of Alan Carr to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in
accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form
or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, includ-
ing photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without
permission in writing from the publishers.

Every effort has been made to trace the copyright holders and obtain permission to reproduce
material from other sources. Any omissions brought to our attention will be remedied in future
editions or reprints.

Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks,

and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Carr, Alan, Dr.
Positive psychology : the science of happiness and human strengths/Alan Carr. — 2nd ed.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-415-60235-8 (hbk.) – ISBN 978-0-415-60236-5 (pbk.) 1. Positive psychology.
2. Happiness. I. Title.
BF204.6.C37 2011
150.19′88—dc22 2011002341

ISBN: 978-0-415-60235-8 (hbk)

ISBN: 978-0-415-60236-5 (pbk)

Typeset in Times by RefineCatch Limited, Bungay, Suffolk

Cover design by Lisa Dynan
Printed and bound in Great Britain by TJ International Ltd, Padstow, Cornwall

List of figures ix
List of tables xi
Preface xiii

1 Happiness 1
Positive emotions 2
Positive and negative affectivity 3
Happiness 6
Measuring happiness 7
The effects of happiness 9
Causes of happiness 15
Circumstances and happiness 19
Happiness enhancement 37
Related concepts 37
Implications 39
Controversies 40
Summary 40
Questions 42
Further reading 42
Measures for use in research 44
Websites 47

2 Positive traits 48
Trait theories of personality and personal strengths 49
Values in Action (VIA) Classification of Character Strengths
and Virtues 57
Implications 74
Controversies 78

vi Contents

Summary 78
Questions 80
Further reading 80
Measures for use in research 81
Websites 82

3 Hope and optimism 83

Positive illusions 84
Optimism 89
Hope 96
Expectationism, risk homeostasis theory, and time perspective 100
The neurobiology of optimism 105
Implications 106
Controversies 106
Summary 108
Questions 109
Further reading 110
Measures for use in research 110

4 Flow 112
Flow 113
Self-determination theory and intrinsic motivation 125
Metamotivational states and reversal theory 128
Implications 131
Controversies 131
Summary 133
Questions 134
Further reading 135
Measures for use in research 135
Websites 136

5 Emotional intelligence 137

Emotional intelligence: ability or personality trait? 138
Development of emotional competence 157
Neurobiological basis for emotional intelligence 164
Questions and answers about emotional intelligence 168
Enhancing emotional intelligence 172
Related constructs 176
Implications 182
Controversies 182
Summary 185
Questions 186
Further reading 187
Measures for use in research 188
Websites 189
Contents vii

6 Giftedness, creativity, and wisdom 190

Giftedness 191
Creativity 197
Wisdom 209
Implications 222
Controversies 226
Summary 227
Questions 229
Further reading 229
Measures for use in research 231

7 Positive self 232

Self as object and agent 234
Self-esteem 235
Self-efficacy 240
Defence mechanisms 244
Coping strategies 253
Implications 269
Controversies 271
Summary 271
Questions 272
Further reading 273
Measures for use in research 274

8 Positive relationships 278

The family life cycle 279
Life-cycle stages associated with separation and divorce 310
Assessing relationships 314
Implications 317
Controversies 317
Summary 321
Questions 322
Further reading 322
Measures for use in research 325

9 Positive psychological therapy 328

Positive psychotherapy 329
Fordyce’s 14 fundamentals for happiness programme 339
Fava’s well-being therapy 340
Frisch’s quality-of-life therapy 341
Person-centred approaches 343
Post-traumatic growth-based therapy 344
Solution-focused therapy 345
Positive family therapy 346
viii Contents

Strengths-based therapies for severe problems 348

The effectiveness of positive psychology interventions 350
Implications 351
Controversies 351
Summary 355
Questions 356
Further reading 356
Measures for use in research 357
Websites 357

Afterword 358
Glossary 360
References 367
Index 405

1.1 Circumplex model of the emotions 5

1.2 Average happiness rating in 916 surveys involving over
1 million people in 45 nations 7
1.3 The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions 13
1.4 Causes of happiness 16
1.5 Attendance at religious services and happiness in the USA 21
1.6 Adaptation to marriage, divorce, widowhood, and unemployment 22
1.7 National wealth and life satisfaction 24
1.8 Increased wealth and happiness in the USA 25
1.9 Marital status and happiness 27
2.1 Temperament and personality 56
2.2 Changes in personality traits over time 59
2.3 Trade-off among character strengths 74
3.1 Snyder’s hope theory 97
3.2 Brain regions activated during optimistic thought 105
4.1 FLOW and other states related to levels of skill and challenge 114
4.2 Frequency of FLOW experiences in everyday activities 120
4.3 Ryan and Deci’s self-determination continuum 126
4.4 Telic and paratelic metamotivational states in reversal theory 129
5.1 Mayer, Salovey, and Caruso’s model of emotional intelligence 146
5.2 Reuven Bar-On’s model of emotional intelligence 150
5.3 Zeidner, Matthews, and Roberts’ investment model of
emotional intelligence development 158
5.4 Characteristics of four attachment styles in children and adults 163
5.5 Joseph and Newman’s cascading model of emotional
intelligence and job performance 170
5.6 A framework for the analysis of emotional behaviour 180
6.1 Csikszentmihalyi’s systems view of creativity 198

x List of figures

6.2 Balte’s predictors of wisdom-related performance in adults 218

6.3 Sternberg’s balance theory of wisdom 220
7.1 Self-esteem and competence 238
7.2 Relationship between self-efficacy beliefs and outcome expectations 241
7.3 Conflict, anxiety, and defence mechanisms 249
7.4 The coping process 254
8.1 Five different trajectories of marital happiness across the lifespan 292
8.2 Patterns of parenting 297
8.3 A dual-process model of coping with loss 309
8.4 Circumplex model of interpersonal behaviour 316

1.1 Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) 4

1.2 Satisfaction with Life Scale 8
1.3 The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire – Short Form 10
1.4 The Warwick–Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale 11
1.5 Components of subjective well-being 12
1.6 Cross-twin, cross-time, and cross-twin and time correlations based
on scores from well-being scale of the multidimensional personality
questionnaire taken at a 9-year interval 18
1.7 Strategies for enhancing happiness 38
2.1 Strengths entailed by the Five-Factor Model of Personality 50
2.2 The Mini International Personality Item Pool (IPIP) inventory
of the big five personality traits 52
2.3 Temperament and personality traits 58
2.4 Values in Action (VIA) Classification of Character
Strengths and Virtues 61
2.5 Using your signature strengths 75
3.1 The Life Orientation Test – Revised 90
3.2 Time Horizon Questionnaire 102
3.3 Strategies for enhancing positive illusions, hope, optimism,
and positive expectations 107
4.1 Experience sampling sheet for assessing flow in everyday life 117
4.2 Strategies for enhancing well-being using intrinsic motivation
and flow 132
5.1 Measures of emotional intelligence 140
5.2 Development of emotional competence 159
5.3 Strategies for enhancing emotional intelligence 183
6.1 Erikson’s psychosocial stage model 210
6.2 Implications of research on giftedness, creativity, and wisdom 223
7.1 Two aspects of self 234
7.2 Defence mechanisms at different levels of maturity 245

xii List of tables

7.3 Functional and dysfunctional, problem-, emotion-, and

avoidance-focused coping strategies 255
7.4 Relaxation exercises 265
7.5 Strategies for promoting strengths and well-being based on
research on self-esteem, self-efficacy, positive coping strategies,
and adaptive defences 270
8.1 Stages of the family life cycle 280
8.2 Kansas Marital Satisfaction Scale 288
8.3 Five types of couples 295
8.4 Kansas Parental Satisfaction Scale 298
8.5 Factors associated with resilience in adolescence 304
8.6 False assumptions challenged in adulthood 306
8.7 Extra stages in the family life cycle entailed by separation or
divorce and remarriage 311
8.8 The SCORE – Systemic Clinical Outcome and Routine Evaluation 318
8.9 Strategies for promoting strengths and well-being based
on research on the family life cycle 320
9.1 Positive psychotherapy 330
9.2 Fordyce’s 14 fundamentals for happiness programme 340
9.3 Cloninger’s voyages to well-being programme 348
9.4 Positive psychology exercises 352

I stand for the reform of municipal morals. New worlds for old. Union of all. Three
acres and a cow for all children of nature. Saloon motor hearses. Compulsory manual
labour for all. All parks open to the public day and night. Electric dishscrubbers
for all. Tuberculosis, lunacy, war and mendacity must now cease. General amnesty,
weekly carnival, with masked licence, bonus for all. Esperanto the universal brother-
hood ... Free money, free love and a free lay church in a free lay state.
(This is Leopold Bloom’s vision of a better
world from Ulysses by James Joyce, 1922)

Clinical psychology has traditionally focused on psychological deficits and disa-

bility. It has rarely privileged our clients’ resilience, resourcefulness, and capacity
for renewal. In the USA Professor Martin Seligman and his colleagues have laid
foundations for a positive psychology to complement deficit-based approaches
(Seligman, 2002; Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000; Snyder & Lopez, 2002).
This new branch of psychology is primarily concerned with the scientific study
of human strengths and happiness. Like Leopold Bloom, whose words open this
preface, it is concerned with identifying factors that promote well-being. However,
unlike Leopold Bloom, the mission of positive psychology is to base conclusions
about what would make a better world on science rather than opinion or rhetoric.
When I wrote the first edition of Positive Psychology in 2002, brief acces-
sible books on the topic were in short supply. This was problematic because
I wanted such a text to accompany my lectures on positive psychology, which
I had incorporated into an introductory course on clinical psychology. It was
this wish, along with my longstanding interest in resilience, that prompted me to
devote a sabbatical year to writing the first edition of Positive Psychology. The
first edition was very popular. However, by 2010 it was out of date due to the
explosion in research on positive psychology in the first decade of the twenty-
first century. Hence, this second edition.
The second edition of Positive Psychology retains all of the features that
made the first edition so popular, including accounts of major theories and

xiv Preface

relevant research, learning objectives, chapter summaries, a discussion of con-

troversial issues, research and personal development questions, suggestions for
further reading, measures for use in research, a glossary of terms, and guidance
on how to apply research findings from positive psychology to enhance personal
well-being. However, the second edition of Positive Psychology has been com-
pletely updated to take account of recent major advances in the field, especially
developments concerning positive psychotherapy, character strengths and vir-
tues, and emotional intelligence.
In the opening chapter, recent findings from psychological research on many
factors associated with happiness are considered. The next four chapters deal with
topics of central concern to positive psychology: positive traits, especially char-
acter strengths and virtues; optimism and hope; flow; and emotional intelligence.
Chapter 6 is concerned with research on giftedness, creativity, and wisdom.
Chapter 7 focuses on four aspects of the self-system that contribute to resilience.
These are self-esteem, self-efficacy, adaptive defences, and functional coping
strategies. Positive relationships over the course of the life cycle are addressed
in Chapter 8. Also included here is a review of research on aspects of friendship,
marriage, and parenting. The chapter presents recent theories and research on
relational topics of central concern to positive psychology including love, altru-
ism, empathy, trust, forgiveness, and gratitude. Chapter 9, which is completely
new, gives an account of a range of approaches to positive psychological therapy.
Colleagues at the School of Psychology, University College Dublin, par-
ticularly those involved with the doctoral programme in clinical psychology
have been very supportive of my efforts to produce this book. Thanks to Muriel
Keegan, Sara Hollwey, Dr Gary O’Reilly, Dr Jessica Bramham, Dr Barbara
Dooley, Dr Eilis Hennessy, Dr Teresa Burke, and Dr Suzanne Guerin. Finally, I
wish to thank Gill, Davie, and Hazel for their kindness and patience.

January 2011

Learning objectives
• Learn about positive emotions, their conceptualisation and measurement.
• Be able to distinguish between the hedonic and eudaimonic approaches
to studying well-being.
• Be able to describe the effects of happiness on creativity, productivity, and
• Understand the relative contribution of genetic and environmental factors
to happiness.
• Be able to describe the role of relationships, the immediate environment,
physical state, work situation, and recreation on happiness.
• Appreciate the obstacles to happiness, notably adaption or habituation
to pleasant stimuli, negative social comparisons, inequitable reactions to
equal losses and gains, and adaptive, but distressing emotions.
• Understand the implications of research on factors related to happiness
for the enhancement of subjective well-being.
• Be able to identify research questions that need to be addressed to
advance our understanding of the nature, causes, and consequences of

Positive psychology is both a scientific and a clinical enterprise. Within posi-

tive psychology, the scientific method is used to understand and enhance posi-
tive aspects of life. Positive psychology is concerned with understanding and

1 happiness and well-being;

2 positive traits and engagement in absorbing activities; and

2 Positive psychology

3 the development of meaningful positive relationships, social systems, and

institutions (Lopez & Snyder, 2009; Seligman, 2002).

That is, positive psychology is concerned with the pleasant life, the engaged life,
and the meaningful life. These three orientations to happiness are associated with
well-being. For example, in an internet study of 845 adults, Peterson et al. (2005)
assessed three orientations to happiness – through pleasure, through engagement,
and through meaning – and found that each of these three orientations was asso-
ciated with life satisfaction. They also found that people who obtained low scores
on all three orientations to happiness reported low satisfaction with their lives.
Park et al. (2009) replicated these findings in a study of 24,836 people from 27
different nations. They also found that orientations to engagement and mean-
ing were more strongly associated with life satisfaction than an orientation to
As a clinical endeavour, positive psychology aims to enhance well-being
and happiness, rather than remediate deficits. Thus, positive psychology comple-
ments rather than replaces traditional clinical psychology. This chapter focuses
on the positive psychology of happiness. Later chapters address positive traits
and relationships. In this chapter, after considering positive emotions and posi-
tive and negative affectivity, the nature and measurement of happiness will be
discussed. This will be followed by an account of the main research findings on
the effects of happiness and its causes.

Positive emotions

In his book Authentic Happiness, Professor Martin Seligman (2002), the founder
of modern positive psychology, classified positive emotions into three catego-
ries: those associated with the past, the present, and the future. Positive emotions
associated with the future include optimism, hope, confidence, faith, and trust.
Optimism and hope will be considered in detail in Chapter 3. Satisfaction, con-
tentment, fulfilment, pride, and serenity are the main positive emotions associ-
ated with the past. There are two distinct classes of positive emotions concerned
with the present: momentary pleasures and more enduring gratifications. The
pleasures include both bodily pleasures and higher pleasures. Bodily pleasures
come through the senses. Feelings that come from sex, beautiful perfumes, and
delicious tastes fall into this category. In contrast, higher pleasures come from
more complex activities and include feelings such as bliss, glee, comfort, ecstasy,
and ebullience. Gratifications differ from pleasures in that they entail states of
absorption or flow that come from engagement in activities that involve using our
unique signature strengths. Sailing, teaching, and helping others are examples of
such activities. Signature strengths are personal traits associated with particular
virtues defined in the Values in Action Classification of Strengths (Peterson &
Seligman, 2004). Signature strengths are discussed in Chapter 2.
In the study of positive emotions and happiness, a critical concern is finding
a parsimonious way of distinguishing between positive and negative affective
states and it is to this that we now turn.
Happiness 3

Positive and negative affectivity

There are between 550 and 600 words for different emotional experiences
in the English language (Averill, 1997). There is good evidence that a dimen-
sional approach accounts for much of the variability in emotional experiences
(Larsen & Deiner, 1992; Watson & Tellegen, 1985). Studies of thousands of par-
ticipants from a variety of cultures, in which factor analyses of self-ratings for
different emotional experiences were conducted, have yielded a consensus. So
too have the results of multivariate studies of ratings of emotional concepts and
facial expressions of emotions. An extremely wide range of emotional experi-
ences may be described in terms of the circumplex space defined by two broad
dimensions. There has been controversy, however, over how best to conceptual-
ise these two dimensions. Some researchers, such as Larsen and Deiner (1992)
and Averill (1997), have labelled these dimensions activation or arousal and
pleasantness or evaluation. Activation or arousal ranges from highly activated
or aroused to a low level of activation or arousal. Pleasantness or evaluation
ranges from pleasant or positive to unpleasant or negative. These two dimen-
sions constitute the vertical and horizontal axes in Figure 1.1. Other researchers,
notably Watson and Tellegen (1985), have suggested a 45° rotation of these
axes to yield dimensions of positive and negative affectivity. These two dimen-
sions are represented by thin diagonal lines in Figure 1.1. Individual differences
in positive and negative affectivity may be assessed reliably with the Positive
and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) presented in Table 1.1 (Watson et al.,
A number of important findings have been made concerning positive and
negative affectivity (Watson, 2000, 2002; Watson & Naragon, 2009). Positive
affectivity is correlated with the personality trait extraversion and negative affec-
tivity is correlated with the trait neuroticism. Both of these traits are discussed
further in Chapter 2. These correlations between affectivity and major personal-
ity traits are substantial and range from 0.4 to 0.9. Positive affectivity contains
the subdimensions of joviality (e.g., cheerful, happy, lively); self-assurance (e.g.,
confident, strong, daring); and attentiveness (e.g., alert, concentrating, deter-
mined). Positive affectivity after the age of 30 is very temporally consistent.
Negative affectivity peaks in late adolescence and then declines with age until
middle adulthood. There are consistent individual differences in positive and
negative affectivity and the degree to which people feel better in the morning
or the evening. Both positive and negative affectivity are moderately heritable
characteristics with heritability coefficients of about 0.5. (Heritability coeffi-
cients range from 0 to 1, with coefficients of 0.5 representing moderate herit-
ability). However, environmental influences can improve positive affectivity.
For example, over a 6-year period Headey and Wearing (1991) found that 31%
of participants in their study showed improvements in their positive affectivity
scores by more than one standard deviation. Positive affectivity is associated
with greater job satisfaction and marital satisfaction. The relationship between
these variables is probably complex and bi-directional, with positive affectivity
causing people to enjoy their jobs and relationships more, and being happy in
work and love increasing positive affectivity. Positive affectivity is associated
Table 1.1 Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS)
This scale consists of a number of words that describe different feelings and emotions. Read each item and then circle the appropriate
answer. Indicate to what extent you feel this way right now (that is, at the present moment).

1 Interested Very slightly or not at all 1 A little 2 Moderately 3 Quite a bit 4 Extremely 5
2 Distressed Very slightly or not at all 1 A little 2 Moderately 3 Quite a bit 4 Extremely 5
3 Excited Very slightly or not at all 1 A little 2 Moderately 3 Quite a bit 4 Extremely 5
4 Upset Very slightly or not at all 1 A little 2 Moderately 3 Quite a bit 4 Extremely 5
5 Strong Very slightly or not at all 1 A little 2 Moderately 3 Quite a bit 4 Extremely 5
6 Guilty Very slightly or not at all 1 A little 2 Moderately 3 Quite a bit 4 Extremely 5
7 Scared Very slightly or not at all 1 A little 2 Moderately 3 Quite a bit 4 Extremely 5
8 Hostile Very slightly or not at all 1 A little 2 Moderately 3 Quite a bit 4 Extremely 5
9 Enthusiastic Very slightly or not at all 1 A little 2 Moderately 3 Quite a bit 4 Extremely 5
10 Proud Very slightly or not at all 1 A little 2 Moderately 3 Quite a bit 4 Extremely 5
11 Irritable Very slightly or not at all 1 A little 2 Moderately 3 Quite a bit 4 Extremely 5
12 Alert Very slightly or not at all 1 A little 2 Moderately 3 Quite a bit 4 Extremely 5
13 Ashamed Very slightly or not at all 1 A little 2 Moderately 3 Quite a bit 4 Extremely 5
14 Inspired Very slightly or not at all 1 A little 2 Moderately 3 Quite a bit 4 Extremely 5
15 Nervous Very slightly or not at all 1 A little 2 Moderately 3 Quite a bit 4 Extremely 5
16 Determined Very slightly or not at all 1 A little 2 Moderately 3 Quite a bit 4 Extremely 5
17 Attentive Very slightly or not at all 1 A little 2 Moderately 3 Quite a bit 4 Extremely 5
18 Jittery Very slightly or not at all 1 A little 2 Moderately 3 Quite a bit 4 Extremely 5
19 Active Very slightly or not at all 1 A little 2 Moderately 3 Quite a bit 4 Extremely 5
20 Afraid Very slightly or not at all 1 A little 2 Moderately 3 Quite a bit 4 Extremely 5
Source: Adapted from Watson, D., Clark, L., & Tellegen, A. (1988). Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect. The PANAS
scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 1063–1070. With permission from the American Psychological Association.
Note: For positive affectivity score sum responses to items 1, 3, 5, 9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 17, 19. For negative affectivity score sum responses to items 2, 4, 6, 7,
8, 11, 13, 15, 18, 20.
Happiness 5

Defiant Surprised Astonished
Alarmed Active Excited
Distressed Enthusiastic
Incensed Intense Eager
Annoyed Elated
Fearful High activation Excited
Nervous or Euphoric
Jittery Aroused lively
Anxious Peppy

Envious Amused
Disgusted Negative affect Positive affect Proud
Unhappy Happy
Miserable Delighted
Unpleasant Pleasant
Sad Glad
or or
Grouchy Cheerful
Negative Positive
Gloomy Warmhearted
Blue Pleased

Miserable Nostalgic
Ashamed Humble
Disappointed Serene

Dull Relaxed
Low activation
Tired Content
Drowsy At rest
Sluggish Calm
Bored Dazed Shy Serene
Droopy Bored Solemn At ease
Lethargic Sleepy

Figure 1.1 Circumplex model of the emotions

Source: Adapted from Averill, J. (1997). The emotions: An integrative approach. In R. Hogan,
J. Johnson, & S. Briggs (Eds.), Handbook of personality psychology (p. 518). New York: Academic
Press; and Larsen, R., & Deiner, E. (1992). Promises and problems with the circumplex model
of emotion. In M. Clark (Ed.), Emotion: Review of personality and social psychology (Vol. 13,
pp. 25–59), Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Note: The horizontal dimension represents evaluation (pleasant or positive versus unpleasant
or negative). The vertical dimension represents activation (high activation or aroused versus
low activation or unaroused). The thin lines represent a 45° rotation of the axes as suggested
by Watson, D., & Tellegen, A. (1985). Towards a consensual structure of mood. Psychological
Bulletin, 98, 219–235.

with greater physical health. People with high positive affectivity tend to have
healthier lifestyles, and better coping strategies. In addition, positive affectivity
directly affects physiological factors that influence disease processes. Negative
affectivity is associated with a wide range of psychological disorders, particularly
6 Positive psychology

Both positive and negative affectivity represent the experiential components

of neurobiological systems that have evolved to address different evolution-
ary tasks (Watson et al., 1995). Negative affectivity (like the personality trait,
neuroticism, which is discussed in Chapter 2) is one aspect of the avoidance-
orientated behavioural inhibition system. The function of this system is to insti-
gate avoidance-behaviour and inhibit approach-behaviour to keep the organism
away from situations that may entail danger, pain, or punishment. Positive affec-
tivity in contrast is part of the behavioural facilitation system (like the personality
trait, extraversion, which is discussed in Chapter 2) that orientates the organism
toward potentially rewarding situations that may yield pleasure. The function
of this system is to help the organism obtain resources necessary for survival,
such as food, shelter, and a mate. Positive affectivity is linked to left pre-
frontal brain activation and is mediated by the dopaminergic system (Watson
& Naragon, 2009). Happy people show greater resting activity in the left pre-
frontal cortex than in the right prefrontal area; in contrast, dysphoric people
show greater right frontal activation (Davidson et al., 2000; Tomarken & Keener,
Positive affectivity is associated with regular physical activity; adequate
sleep; regular socialising with close friends; and striving for valued goals (rather
than attaining them). So positive affectivity may be enhanced through engag-
ing in regular physical exercise; maintaining a regular and adequate pattern of
sleeping; making and maintaining strong friendships and socialising frequently
with supportive friends; and through working towards personally valued goals
(Watson, 2002). Positive affectivity is one aspect of happiness, which is our next
area of concern.


How happy are most people? In an effort to answer this question, Professor Ed
Diener from Minnesota University aggregated data from 916 surveys of happi-
ness, life satisfaction, and subjective well-being involving over a million people
in 45 nations around the world (Myers & Diener, 1996). He transformed all the
data onto a scale that went from 0 to 10, where 10 indicated extremely happy,
5 was neutral, and 0 was very unhappy. From Figure 1.2 it may be seen that
the average happiness rating was 6.75. So he concluded that the average person
is moderately happy. Very few surveys found neutral mean ratings of 5 or an
unhappy mean rating of less than 5. These positive reports of happiness char-
acterise all age groups, both genders, and all ethnic groups studied. Of course,
certain minority groups were unhappy. These included hospitalised alcoholics,
newly incarcerated prisoners, new therapy clients, South African Black people
under apartheid, and students living under political oppression. There are gen-
der and age differences in the variability of happiness ratings. Using data from
10 European countries, Veenhoven and Hagerty (2006) found that happiness
improved significantly from 1973 to 2002 and this increase in happiness was
associated with an increase in longevity.
Happiness 7




:::I 80
E 60



o r-'1 n--, ~
1.5 2 2.5 3 3.5 4 4.5
5 5.5 6 6.5 7 7.5 8 8.5 9 9.5 10
t t
5.0 6.75
Neutral Mean
Happiness Happiness
Rating Rating

Figure 1.2 Average happiness rating in 916 surveys involving over 1 million people
in 45 nations
Source: Adapted from Myers, D., & Diener, E. (1996). The pursuit of happiness. Scientific
American, 274 (May), 54–56.

Measuring happiness

In studies of happiness a variety of techniques have been used to assess the

construct. In many of the major national surveys, single questions are used to
measure happiness. These questions are framed in different ways, such as ‘How
happy are you now?’; ‘How satisfied are you with your life?’; ‘How do you feel
about your life as a whole?’. Usually respondents are given a number of possible
answers to choose from on 5-, 7- or 10-point scales. Fordyce (1988) developed a
2-item happiness measure:

1 ‘In general how happy or unhappy do you feel’ (with a 10-point response
format from 10 = feeling ecstatic, joyous, fantastic to 0 = utterly depressed,
completely down);
Table 1.2 Satisfaction with Life Scale
Below are five statements you may agree or disagree with. Using the 7-point scale below indicate your agreement with each item by
circling the answer that applies to you. Please be open and honest in your responding.
1 In most ways my life is close to my Strongly Disagree 2 Slightly Neither agree Slightly Agree 6 Strongly
ideal disagree 1 disagree 3 nor disagree 4 agree 5 agree 7
2 The conditions of my life are Strongly Disagree 2 Slightly Neither agree Slightly Agree 6 Strongly
excellent disagree 1 disagree 3 nor disagree 4 agree 5 agree 7
3 I am satisfied with my life Strongly Disagree 2 Slightly Neither agree Slightly Agree 6 Strongly
disagree 1 disagree 3 nor disagree 4 agree 5 agree 7
4 So far I have gotten the important Strongly Disagree 2 Slightly Neither agree Slightly Agree 6 Strongly
things I want in life disagree 1 disagree 3 nor disagree 4 agree 5 agree 7
5 If I could live my life over I would Strongly Disagree 2 Slightly Neither agree Slightly Agree 6 Strongly
change almost nothing disagree 1 disagree 3 nor disagree 4 agree 5 agree 7

Source: Adapted from Diener, E., Emmons, R., Larsen, R., & Griffin, S. (1985). The Satisfaction with Life Scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49, 71–75.
With permission from the publisher: Taylor & Francis Ltd (http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals).
Note: Most people score in the 21–25 range on this scale.
Happiness 9

2 ‘On average what percentage of the time do you feel happy (or unhappy or

The average score for the first question was 6.9, and the average for the second
was 54%.
More sophisticated multi-item scales with good reliability and validity have
also been used in recent research. These include the Satisfaction with Life Scale
(Diener et al., 1985, Table 1.2), which has been widely used in the US and the
Oxford Happiness Questionnaire (Hills & Argyle, 2002, Table 1.3), which has
been widely used in the UK. The Warwick–Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale
(Tennant et al., 2007, Table 1.4) and the bipolar depression–happiness scale
(Joseph & Lewis, 1998) are two other brief measures of well-being developed in
the UK that have strong psychometric properties.
Factor analytic studies of measures of happiness and well-being show that
happiness has at least two aspects. Such studies consistently yield affective and
cognitive factors representing the emotional experience of joy, elation, content-
ment, and other positive emotions on the one hand, and the cognitive evalu-
ation of satisfaction with various life domains on the other (e.g., Andrews &
McKennell, 1980). Cross-cultural data show that these two aspects of happiness
are correlated at about r = 0.5 in individualist cultures such as the USA and the
UK, and as low as r = 0.2 in collectivist cultures, where satisfaction depends on
the state of others as well as oneself (Suh et al., 1997). Thus, joy and satisfaction,
the affective and cognitive components of happiness, are relatively independent
of each other. To complicate the matter further, positive affect and negative affect
are independent constructs or systems, as shown in Figure 1.1. Furthermore,
overall happiness is dependent upon cognitive evaluations of satisfaction within
various life domains such as the family or the work setting and affective experi-
ences within these. A framework is presented in Table 1.5 for conceptualising
the various components of subjective well-being. To take account of the mul-
tiple domains that are associated with life satisfaction, Alfonso et al.’s (1996)
Extended Satisfaction with Life Scale uses five items in each of eight domains,
i.e., self, family, sex, relationships, social, physical, work, and college.
While single-item and multi-item scales measure global perceptions of
personal happiness, experience sampling methods (ESM) provide moment-to-
moment measures of happiness (Hektner et al., 2007). With ESM people are ran-
domly signalled by a pager that they carry throughout an extended time period
such as a week or a month. When the signal occurs, they record their mood at
that time point. While single- and multi-item measures of happiness are useful
for assessing happiness over relatively long periods of time, ESM is useful for
studying fluctuations in happiness over relatively short periods of time.

The effects of happiness

Seligman (2002) has argued that positive and negative emotions may be dis-
tinguished from each other in terms of the degree to which they prepare us for
Table 1.3 The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire – Short Form
Below are a number of statements about happiness. Would you please indicate how much you agree or disagree with each by ticking the
box that best fits with how you think. You will need to read the statements carefully because some are phrased positively and some are
phrased negatively. Don’t take too long over individual questions. There are no right or wrong answers and no trick questions. The first
answer that comes into your head is probably the right one for you. If you find some of the questions difficult, please give the answer that is
true for you in general most of the time.
1 I don’t feel particularly pleased with the way I am Strongly Moderately Slightly Slightly Moderately Strongly
disagree 6 disagree 5 disagree 4 agree 3 agree 2 agree 1
2 I feel that life is very rewarding Strongly Moderately Slightly Slightly Moderately Strongly
disagree 1 disagree 2 disagree 3 agree 4 agree 5 agree 6
3 I am well satisfied about every thing in my life Strongly Moderately Slightly Slightly Moderately Strongly
disagree 1 disagree 2 disagree 3 agree 4 agree 5 agree 6
4 I don’t think I look attractive Strongly Moderately Slightly Slightly Moderately Strongly
disagree 6 disagree 5 disagree 4 agree 3 agree 2 agree 1
5 I find beauty in some things Strongly Moderately Slightly Slightly Moderately Strongly
disagree 1 disagree 2 disagree 3 agree 4 agree 5 agree 6
6 I can fit in everything I want to Strongly Moderately Slightly Slightly Moderately Strongly
disagree 1 disagree 2 disagree 3 agree 4 agree 5 agree 6
7 I feel fully mentally alert Strongly Moderately Slightly Slightly Moderately Strongly
disagree 1 disagree 2 disagree 3 agree 4 agree 5 agree 6
8 I do not have particularly happy memories of the Strongly Moderately Slightly Slightly Moderately Strongly
past disagree 6 disagree 5 disagree 4 agree 3 agree 2 agree 1

Source: Adapted from Hills, P., & Argyle, M. (2002). The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire: A compact scale for the measurement of psychological well-being.
Personality and Individual Differences, 33, 1071–1082; and Cruise, S., Lewis, A., & McGukin, C. (2006). Internal consistency, reliability, and temporal stability
of the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire short-form: Test-retest data over two weeks. Social Behavior and Personality, 34, 123–126.
Note: Most people score between 29 and 39 on this scale.
Table 1.4 The Warwick–Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale
Below are some statements about feelings and thoughts. Please tick the box that best describes your experience of each over the
last 2 weeks.

1 I’ve been feeling optimistic about the future None of the time 1 Rarely 2 Some of the time 3 Often 4 All of the time 5
2 I’ve been feeling useful None of the time 1 Rarely 2 Some of the time 3 Often 4 All of the time 5
3 I’ve been feeling relaxed None of the time 1 Rarely 2 Some of the time 3 Often 4 All of the time 5
4 I’ve been feeling interested in other people None of the time 1 Rarely 2 Some of the time 3 Often 4 All of the time 5
5 I’ve had energy to spare None of the time 1 Rarely 2 Some of the time 3 Often 4 All of the time 5
6 I’ve been dealing with problems well None of the time 1 Rarely 2 Some of the time 3 Often 4 All of the time 5
7 I’ve been thinking clearly None of the time 1 Rarely 2 Some of the time 3 Often 4 All of the time 5
8 I’ve been feeling good about myself None of the time 1 Rarely 2 Some of the time 3 Often 4 All of the time 5
9 I’ve been feeling close to other people None of the time 1 Rarely 2 Some of the time 3 Often 4 All of the time 5
10 I’ve been feeling confident None of the time 1 Rarely 2 Some of the time 3 Often 4 All of the time 5
11 I’ve been able to make my own mind up about None of the time 1 Rarely 2 Some of the time 3 Often 4 All of the time 5
12 I’ve been feeling loved None of the time 1 Rarely 2 Some of the time 3 Often 4 All of the time 5
13 I’ve been interested in new things None of the time 1 Rarely 2 Some of the time 3 Often 4 All of the time 5
14 I’ve been feeling cheerful None of the time 1 Rarely 2 Some of the time 3 Often 4 All of the time 5

Source: From Tennant, R., Hiller, L., Fishwick, R., Platt, S., Joseph, S., Weich, S., Parkinson, J., Secker, J., & Stewart-Brown, S. (2007). The Warwick–
Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale (WEMWBS): development and UK validation. Health and Quality of Life Outcomes, 5, 63 (doi: 10.1186/1477-7525-5-63).
(See www.hqlo.com/content/5/1/63.)
Note: Most people score between 45 and 56 on this scale.
12 Positive psychology

Table 1.5 Components of subjective well-being

Cognitive component Affective component

Domain Satisfaction Positive affect Negative affect

Self Significant others’ view of Happiness Depression
one’s life
Family Satisfaction with current life Elation Sadness
Peer group Significant others’ view of Ecstasy Envy
one’s life
Health Satisfaction with past Pride Anger
Finances Satisfaction with future Affection Stress
Work Desire to change life Joy Guilt or shame
Leisure Satisfaction with current life Contentment Anxiety

Source: Adapted from Diener, E., Suh, E., Lucas, R., & Smith, H. (1999). Subjective well-being:
Three decades of progress. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 277. With permission from American
Psychological Association.

win–lose or win–win transactions, or zero-sum and non-zero-sum games. From

an evolutionary perspective, negative emotions such as fear or anger are our first
line of defence against threats. For example, fear and anger tell us that danger
is probable or that harm is imminent. Negative emotions narrow our attention
to the source of the threat and mobilise us for fight or flight. Negative emotions
prepare us for zero-sum games in which there is a winner and a loser and the
amount lost and won is identical, so there is no net gain from the transaction.
Hence the term, zero-sum game. In contrast, positive emotions like pleasure or
contentment tell us that something good is happening. Positive emotions broaden
our attention so we become aware of the wider physical and social environment.
This broadened attention prepares us to be open to new ideas and practices and
to be more creative than usual. Thus positive emotions offer us opportunities to
create better relationships and show greater productivity. Positive emotions pre-
pare us for win–win or non-zero-sum games in which both parties conclude the
transaction with more than they started. This link between non-zero-sum games
and positive emotions is based on Wright’s (2000) argument that the progress of
civilisation is in the direction of increasing win–win interactions and institutions
that support such non-zero-sum games.
From this analysis it is clear that negative emotions facilitate highly focused,
defensive critical thinking and decision making, where the objective is to detect
what is wrong and eliminate it. Positive emotions facilitate creative tolerant
thinking and productivity. Studies of ‘depressive realism’ confirm that depressed
people are more accurate judges of their own skills, and have a more accu-
rate recall of positive and negative things that have happened to them and are
more sensitive to risk-related information (Ackerman & Derubeis, 1991). In
contrast, happy people overestimate their skills and remember more positive
than negative events, but are better at making life planning decisions because
they use important strategies such as seeking out health-risk-related information
Happiness 13

(Aspinwall et al., 2001). The positive outlook that most people have and the
realism associated with depression are both discussed in detail in Chapter 3.

Broaden-and-build theory
Professor Barbara Fredrickson at the University of Michigan has extended the
idea that positive emotions lead to non-zero-sum games. She has developed the
broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions to explain how positive affec-
tive experiences not only signal personal well-being but also contribute to per-
sonal growth and development (Cohn & Fredrickson, 2009; Fredrickson, 2009;
Fredrickson & Losada, 2005). Many negative emotions, such as anxiety or anger,
narrow people’s momentary thought–action repertoires, so that they are ready
to act in self-protective ways. Positive emotions, in contrast, broaden momen-
tary thought–action repertoires. This broadening of momentary thought–action
repertoires offers opportunities for building enduring personal resources, which
in turn offers the potential for personal growth and transformation by creat-
ing positive or adaptive spirals of emotion, cognition, and action. The process
is shown in Figure 1.3. For example, joy creates the urge to play and create
in social and intellectual or artistic ways. Thus joy, arising from playing with
others, can strengthen social support networks and through creativity can lead
to the production of art and science or lead to creative problem-solving in
day-to-day life. Increased social support, artistic, and scientific productions, and
successful problem-solving experiences are all relatively enduring outcomes
of joy and may contribute to personal transformation and development. This,
in turn, may lead to more positive emotions. Contentment, another positive

Transform people and

produce upward spirals

Build enduring
personal resources

Broaden momentary
thought-action repertoires


Figure 1.3 The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions

Source: Adapted from Fredrickson, B. (2002). Positive emotions. In C. R. Snyder & S. Lopez
(Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (p. 124). New York: Oxford University Press. Used with
14 Positive psychology

emotion, may create an urge to contemplate life circumstances. This may lead to
new and more positive ways of viewing ourselves and the world around us, and
of carrying on our day-to-day lives. Further positive emotions may arise from
these new and enduring insights and practices.
Empirical evidence from community, clinical, and laboratory studies offers
substantial support for the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions (Cohn
& Fredrickson, 2009; Fredrickson, 2002, 2009; Fredrickson & Losada, 2005;
Lyubomirsky et al., 2005a). There is good evidence that positive mood states
broaden thought–action repertoires. Clinical studies of bipolar disorder show that
manic and hypomanic states are associated with overinclusive thinking and that
bipolar patients treated successfully with lithium show diminished creativity. In
laboratory studies, a variety of methods have been found to reliably induce posi-
tive mood states for up to 15 minutes. These methods, in order of effectiveness,
include watching an arousing film or reading an arousing story, receiving an unex-
pected gift (e.g., a bar of chocolate), reading positive self-statements, remember-
ing a positive event, getting positive feedback, listening to music, and having
positive social interaction with a cheerful person (Westermann et al., 1996).
These mood-induction methods have been used to show the positive effects
of happiness on perception, cognition, and social interaction in laboratory set-
tings. Analogue studies confirm that a bias towards global visual processing and
broadened attention is shown by people with positive mood states or people who
receive success feedback on laboratory tasks. In contrast, people with negative
mood states or people who receive failure feedback on laboratory tasks show a
bias towards local visual processing. Laboratory studies show that induced mood
states lead to more creative and flexible thought and behaviour. In Frederickson’s
own laboratory she has done a series of studies that lent support to the broaden-
and-build theory. In one set of studies participants were shown film clips to
induce positive emotions such as joy and contentment, and negative emotions
such as fear and anger. After each clip participants listed as many things that they
could think of that they would like to do if they had these emotions in real life.
Positive emotions led to a far broader repertoire of thought–action tendencies.
A large body of evidence shows that positive mood states help people build
enduring personal resources. In a meta-analysis of 225 cross-sectional, longitu-
dinal, and experimental studies, Lyubomirsky et al. (2005a) found that positive
emotions led to better adjustment in the broad domains of work, relationships,
and health, and also to greater positive perceptions of self and others, sociability,
likability, co-operation, altruism, coping, conflict resolution, creativity, and prob-
lem solving. However, greater happiness does not always lead to greater success
in all domains. In analyses of a major international cross-sectional survey, an
intense data collection project with college students, and four large longitudinal
data-sets involving data from over 90 countries, Oishi et al. (2007) found that
people who experience the highest levels of happiness are the most successful in
terms of close relationships and volunteer work, but that those who experience
slightly lower levels of happiness are the most successful in terms of income,
education, and political participation. Oishi and colleagues concluded that once
people are moderately happy, the most effective level of happiness appears to
depend on the specific outcomes used to define success.
Happiness 15

An important question is how much positive emotion is enough to facilitate

positive life changes? To answer this question, Fredrickson and Losada (2005)
invited 188 participants to complete a preliminary survey to assess flourishing
mental health and then provide daily reports of positive and negative emotions
for a month. Flourishing was defined as scoring high on six of the following
constructs: self-acceptance, purpose in life, environmental mastery, positive rela-
tions with others, personal growth, autonomy, social coherence, social integra-
tion, social acceptance, social contribution, and social actualisation. They found
that the ratio of positive to negative emotions was greater than 3:1 for those
classified as flourishing and below that threshold for those classified as not
flourishing. Fredrickson (2009) has augmented her broaden-and-build theory to
include the proposition that the ratio of positive to negative emotions must be at
least 3:1 for positive emotions to have a significant enduring benefit and lead to
the experience of flourishing.

Evidence from longitudinal studies shows that happiness has important effects
on longevity. In a meta-analysis of 35 studies, Chida and Stcptoe (2008) found
that positive psychological well-being was associated with reduced mortality in
both healthy and diseased population studies. Both positive affect, including joy,
happiness, vigour, and energy, and positive trait-like dispositions such as life
satisfaction, hopefulness, optimism, and sense of humour were associated with
reduced mortality in healthy population studies. The Nun study is one of the
most widely cited investigations of the effects of happiness on longevity. In this
follow-back study of 180 nuns in the USA, Danner et al. (2001) found that the
happiness expressed in essays that the nuns wrote as they entered a religious
order in early adulthood was associated with their longevity. This was a care-
fully controlled study. All of the participants had similar lifestyles. They were
all unmarried nuns who worked as teachers and did not smoke or drink and ate a
simple balanced diet throughout their adult life. When they wrote their essays as
they entered the order, they gave a biographical sketch and stated their hopes for
the future, but had no idea that these essays would be used in a study of happiness
and longevity. More than half a century later, the amount of positive emotions in
the essays was judged by trained raters who did not know the age of the partici-
pants. A total of 90% of the happiest quarter lived past the age of 85 compared
with only 34% of the least happy quarter.
From the foregoing it is clear that positive emotions enhance not just adjust-
ment in the broad domains of work and relationships, but also increase longevity.
Having considered the effects of happiness, let us now turn to research on the
causes of happiness and subjective well-being.

Causes of happiness

Identifying factors that contribute to happiness is not a simple matter (Diener,

2009a, 2009b, 2009c; Eid & Larsen, 2008). Pleasure and the pursuit of pleasure
16 Positive psychology

may sometimes, but not always, lead to happiness. For example, the repeated
short-term pleasures of smoking cigarettes or using other drugs may lead to
the long-term unhappiness associated with illness. Acts of murderous revenge,
assault, rape, or theft may bring immediate satisfaction or short-term pleasure, but
in the long-term they may reap social, psychological, or physical consequences
that lead to misery and despair. As a species we have evolved so that certain types
of situations make us happy while others lead to the experience of distress.
Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky has argued that three classes of factors deter-
mine our level of happiness: (1) set-point, (2) circumstances, and (3) intentional
activities (Lyubomirsky, 2007; Lyubomirsky et al., 2005b). With regard to the
happiness set-point, Lyubomirsky proposed that about 50% of individual dif-
ferences in happiness may be accounted for by differences in personality that
are partially genetically determined. With regard to circumstances, there is also
little doubt that certain kinds of environments are conducive to happiness or to
providing people with opportunities to develop the skills required to achieve
happiness. Lyubomirsky proposed that about 10% of individual differences in
happiness may be accounted for by these environmental circumstances. Some of
the evidence for the relative roles of genetics and environmental factors in affect-
ing well-being will be reviewed in the remainder of this chapter. Lyubomirsky’s
most hopeful proposal was that 40% of individual differences in happiness are
the result of activities that people intentionally carry out, so people have consid-
erable latitude to enhance their well-being. The relative contribution of the three
causes of happiness is illustrated in Figure 1.4. Some of these will be considered
later in this chapter along with important lessons from evolutionary psychology
about obstacles to happiness and ways that these may be circumvented (Buss,

Intentional activity

Genetic happiness set-point

Figure 1.4 Causes of happiness

Source: Based on Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). The how of happiness. New York: Penguin.
Happiness 17

2000). However, a detailed consideration of programmes that help people live

happier lives is reserved for the final chapter of this book.

Happiness set-point
The idea of a happiness set-point evolved from observations that happiness lev-
els are partly determined by personality traits, and individual differences in these
traits are partially determined by genetic factors.

Personality traits and happiness

Extensive reviews and meta-analyses show that happy and unhappy people have
distinctive personality profiles (Diener et al., 1999; Steel et al., 2008). In Western
cultures happy people are extraverted, stable, conscientious, agreeable, optimis-
tic, have high self-esteem, and an internal locus of control. In contrast, unhappy
people tend to have high levels of neuroticism, be introverted, and to show lower
levels of conscientiousness and agreeableness. Interestingly, intelligence is not
related to happiness. The associations between personality traits and happiness
are not universal across all cultures, an observation that will be discussed below.
There are a number of factors that offer partial explanations for the link
between extraversion and happiness (Diener et al., 1999). Extraverts may have a
better fit with the social environment, which requires most people to be involved
in frequent social interactions. So they find themselves frequently in situations
that meet their needs for socialising and so are happier. Also there is good evi-
dence that extraverts respond with greater happiness to stimuli designed to
induce positive moods. There is also evidence that extraversion and neuroticism
predispose people to experience more positive and negative events respectively.
So if you have a high level of extraversion you are more likely to experience
positive events and so experience more happiness. If you have a high level
of neuroticism, you are more likely to experience negative events and so be
more unhappy.
Cultural factors partially determine the types of personality factors associated
with happiness. In Western individualistic cultures such as the USA, self-esteem
and acting in a consistent way that is congruent with one’s personal beliefs are
personality factors associated with high levels of subjective well-being. However,
subjective well-being is not correlated with these factors in Eastern collectivist
societies. So cultural values partially determine personality traits that affect sub-
jective well-being, probably because these traits are associated with achieving
culturally valued goals (Triandis, 2000).

Genetic and environmental basis for personality traits

The weight of evidence, largely from twin studies, shows that 50% of the vari-
ance in major personality traits such as extraversion and neuroticism may be
accounted for by genetic factors (Krueger & Johnson, 2008). The mechanisms
by which genetic factors influence personality traits are complex. Probably mul-
tiple genes determine temperamental characteristics, and these interact with
18 Positive psychology

predominantly non-shared environmental influences in the development of

personality traits. There is considerable evidence from longitudinal studies of
the link between temperament and personality traits. Children with high activ-
ity levels and positive affect become extraverted, and so are more likely to be
happy. Children who are highly irritable and fearful show high levels of neuroti-
cism in later life and so are more likely to show negative affectivity (DePauw &
Mervielde, 2010).

Heritability of a happiness set-point

Professor David Lykken (1999), in the Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart,
has shown that about half of the variance in current happiness or subjective well-
being (assessed by the Well-Being Scale of the Multidimensional Personality
Questionnaire) is as a result of genetic factors. However, the set-point for
happiness – that is, the stable point around which people’s mood varies over peri-
ods such as a decade – is about 98% genetically determined. Data on which these
conclusions are based are given in Table 1.6. These data show that there are mod-
erately high correlations (0.44–0.53) between the well-being scores of monozy-
gotic twins and negligible correlations (0.08–0.13) between scores of dizygotic
twins. These findings support the conclusion that well-being is 44–53% heritable.
The correlation between the scores of monozygotic twins at the start of the study
and their own scores 9 years later was r = 0.55 and that between each monozy-
gotic twin at the start of the study and his or her twin-sibling 9 years later was
r = 0.54. This remarkable findings allows us to conclude that the set-point for hap-
piness is 98% (0.55/0.54) heritable. Thus, while happiness is 50% heritable, and

Table 1.6 Cross-twin, cross-time, and cross-twin and time correlations based on scores from
well-being scale of the multidimensional personality questionnaire taken at a 9-year interval

No. of Correlations
twin pairs
Cross-twin correlation for monozygotic twins reared apart 69 0.53
Cross-twin correlation for monozygotic twins reared together 663 0.44
Cross-twin correlation for dizygotic twins reared apart 50 0.13
Cross-twin correlation for dizygotic twins reared together 715 0.08
Conclusion: Well-being is 44–53% heritable
Cross-time correlation after 9 years for monozygotic twins 410 0.55
Cross-time and twin correlation after 9 years for monozygotic 131 0.54
Cross-time and twin correlation after 9 years for dizygotic twins 74 0.05
Conclusion: Set-point for well-being is 98% heritable

Source: Based on Lykken, D. (1999). Happiness. The nature and nurture of joy and contentment. New
York: St Martin’s Press.
Happiness 19

so there is considerable latitude for us to enhance our happiness, the upper-limit

of how happy we can feel is almost completely (98%) genetically determined.

Circumstances and happiness

A range of circumstances, many of which are environmental, influence happiness

and well-being (Diener et al., 2009a, 2009b; Eid & Larsen, 2008). These include
geographical location, culture, religion and spirituality, life events, wealth, mari-
tal status, social support, education, work, recreation age, gender, and health.
Altogether these circumstantial variables account for about 10% of the variance
in overall happiness (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005b).

Geographical location and the physical environment

Broadly speaking more pleasant physical environments are moderately associ-
ated with happiness. Strong positive feelings are associated with being in natural
rather than artificial environments. People report positive feelings in geographical
locations where there are vegetation, water, and panoramic views (Ulrich et al.,
1991). Evolutionary factors probably contribute to preferences for these types of
geographical locations (Buss, 2000). Such environments are both safe and fertile.
Good weather induces positive moods. When the sun is shining, when it’s
warm but not too warm, and when there is low humidity people report more
positive moods (Brereton et al., 2008; Cunningham, 1979). However, people do
adapt to unfavourable weather conditions, and across nations there is no correla-
tion between the climate and national happiness ratings.
Moderate correlations have been found between the quality of housing
and life satisfaction. Indicators of the quality of housing include geographical
location, rooms per person, room size, and availability of heating (Andrews &
Withey, 1976; Campbell et al., 1976).
Proximity to or distance from amenities also influence well-being. Being near
an airport (but not near enough to suffer noise pollution) or the coast is associated
with increased well-being, while being near major roads or a land-fill waste site
is associated with reduced well-being (Brereton et al., 2008). Having to commute
long distances to work, living in areas with limited access to parks and green
spaces, noise, and air pollution all diminish well-being (Diener et al., 2009a).
Music has been shown in surveys and mood-induction experiments to induce
short-term positive mood states and to reduce aggression (Argyle, 2001; Hills &
Argyle, 1998). However, there is no evidence that music leads to enduring posi-
tive mood changes or life satisfaction.

In a series of studies involving hundreds of thousands of respondents from over
90 countries, Professor Ed Diener and his team have consistently found that spe-
cific cultural and sociopolitical factors play an important role in determining
happiness (Diener, 2009b; Diener & Suh, 2000). There is an association between
20 Positive psychology

subjective well-being and living in an affluent stable democracy devoid of polit-

ical oppression and military conflict. Cultures in which there is social equal-
ity have higher mean levels of subjective well-being. Subjective well-being is
greater in individualist cultures than in collectivist cultures. Happiness is also
associated with important features of government institutions. Subjective well-
being is higher in welfare states, in countries in which public institutions run
efficiently, and in which there are satisfactory relationships between the citizens
and members of the bureaucracy.
In poorer countries, financial satisfaction plays an important role in deter-
mining life satisfaction, whereas in wealthy nations home life satisfaction plays a
key role in determining overall life satisfaction. Furthermore, the potency of posi-
tive daily experiences to enhance daily well-being is lower in Asian Americans,
Japanese and Koreans than in European Americans. In this context positive daily
experiences include such things as having a meal with friends, getting a compli-
ment, or receiving a gift.

Religion and spirituality

Moderate correlations have been found between happiness and involvement in
religious activity in North American studies (Myers, 2000; Myers et al., 2008).
This is illustrated by Figure 1.5, which shows that people who are more involved
in regular religious practices tend to be happier. In meta-analyses and reviews,
positive correlations have been found between religiosity and mental health
(Hackney & Sanders, 2003), spirituality and quality of life (Sawatzky et al.,
2005), and positive religious coping and positive psychological adjustment (Ano
& Vasconcelles, 2005). However, the relationship between religious faith and
practices on the one hand, and well-being on the other, is not simple. It is not
always the case that more is better. For example, the phenomenon of suicide
bombing shows that extreme religious fundamentalism may be hazardous. Also
many non-religious humanists such as the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre
(1905–1980) and the British novelist Sir Terry Pratchett lived very fulfilling
lives. In a wide-ranging review of empirical studies of religion and well-being,
Professor Kenneth Pargament (2002) concluded that well-being is associated
with religion that is internalised, intrinsically motivated, and based on a secure
relationship with God and not with religion that is imposed, and reflective of a
tenuous relationship with God and the world. Religion is particularly helpful
to socially marginalised and disadvantaged groups, and is especially valuable
in stressful situations. The impact of religion on well-being depends upon the
degree to which it is integrated in the individual’s life.
People involved in religion may be happier than others for many reasons.
Four have been given serious consideration within psychology and there is evi-
dence to support each of these (Diener & Biswas-Diener, 2008; Myers et al.,
2008). First, religion provides a coherent belief system that allows people to find
meaning in life, optimism and hope for the future. Religious belief systems allow
people to understand their place in the universe, to make sense of the adversities,
stresses, and inevitable losses that occur over the course of the life cycle and
to be optimistic about an afterlife in which these difficulties will be resolved.
Happiness 21




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o Several Weekly Monthly Less than

times a week monthly

Figure 1.5 Attendance at religious services and happiness in the USA

Source: Adapted from Myers, E. (2000). The funds, friends and faith of happy people. American
Psychologist, 55, 56–67 (p. 65). With permission from American Psychological Association.
Note: Based on data from 35,024 cases in the General Social Survey, National Opinion Research
Centre, USA, 1972–1996.

Second, involvement in routine attendance at religious services and being part of

a religious community provides people with social support and meets their needs
for affiliation and belongingness. Third, involvement in religion is often asso-
ciated with physically and psychologically healthier lifestyles characterised by
marital fidelity, family cohesion, altruistic behaviour, moderation in eating and
drinking, virtuous behaviour characterised by humility, forgiveness, gratitude,
and compassion, and a commitment to hard work. Fourth, religious and spiritual
practices including meditation, hymn-singing, prayer, rituals, attending beautiful
churches, and so forth induce positive emotions such as joy, awe, compassion,
and transcendence.
22 Positive psychology

Life events
Positive and negative life events have short-term effects on well-being, but in
many cases these are not enduring. Brickman and Campbell (1971) coined the
term ‘hedonic treadmill’ to describe the process of rapid adaptation whereby peo-
ple react strongly to both positive and negative recent life events, with sharp
increases or decreases in happiness, but in most instances rapidly return to their
happiness set-point in a matter of weeks or months. Brickman et al. (1978) sup-
ported their hypothesis with evidence that lottery winners or paralysed survivors
of accidents eventually adapted to these major life events. Subsequent research
has shown that people can adapt to significant negative life events, including
imprisonment and disability, and positive life events, such as increases in income
(Frederick & Lowenstein, 1999). Indeed until recently the ‘hedonic treadmill’
hypothesis was taken as fact. However, Ed Diener’s team have argued that avail-
able evidence requires the hedonic treadmill hypotheses to be revised. They
found that people do not fully adapt to the death of a spouse, divorce, or unem-
ployment as shown in Figure 1.6 (Diener et al., 2006). This figure also shows
that people show significant adaptation to the initial positive impact of marriage.

Wealth confers many benefits on people (Diener & Biswas-Diener, 2008, 2009).
Compared with poor people, wealthy people are healthier, live longer, have fewer

8 -.--------------------,--------------------,

c:: 7-


..s! 6.5 -


5.5 -
-5 -4 -3 -2 -I 0 2 3 4 5

Figure 1.6 Adaptation to marriage, divorce, widowhood, and unemployment

Source: Adapted from Diener, E., Lucas, R. E., & Scollon, C. N. (2006). Beyond the hedonic
treadmill: Revising the adaptation theory of well-being. American Psychologist, 61, 305–314
(Figure 2, p. 310). With permission from American Psychological Association.
Happiness 23

stressful life events, are less likely to drop out of education, have teenage preg-
nancies, be victims of violent crime and tend to be given lighter prison sentences
for the same crimes. For people who enjoy their work, earning money is a pleas-
ant activity. In most societies wealth gives people higher social status and greater
control over many aspects of their lives. Wealth also allows people to do pleas-
urable things such as helping others, shopping, and preferred leisure activities.
Despite these very significant benefits associated with material wealth, a con-
sistent finding is that within affluent industrialised nations, such as in the USA
and the UK, the correlation between wealth and happiness or subjective well-
being is quite small (r < 0.2). Professor Ed Diener at the University of Illinois
drew the following conclusions about the link between wealth and happiness,
based on an analysis of data from international surveys (Diener, 2000; Diener &
Biswas-Diener, 2008, 2009). There are large correlations (r = 0.5–0.7) between
the wealth of different countries and happiness, but within a specific county
correlations between wealth and happiness of individuals are much smaller
(r = 0.02–0.4). In poor counties, where the overall risk of unhappiness is greater,
the correlation between wealth and happiness is greater than in rich nations.
For example, in poor areas of Calcutta the correlation is about r = 0.45, whereas
in the USA it is about r = 0.2. In economically developed countries, over the past
few decades economic growth has not been accompanied by a rise in happiness.
Unless they are very rich, people who strive for wealth are less happy than those
who aspire to non-material goals and values. This may be because the process
and outcome of accumulating money may not be conducive to meeting social
and psychological needs that enhance happiness once basic physical needs have
been met. However, even in affluent societies, the very rich are happier than
those with moderate incomes.
In Figure 1.7 the relative levels of happiness in a number of different coun-
tries may be seen along with their relative wealth. This is quantified in the graph
as purchasing power parity. Happiness rates are low in Russia and Turkey and
high in Ireland, Canada, Denmark, and Switzerland. This is probably because
people in poorer countries are dissatisfied that they have not got the luxuries,
which they know from the media are available in the more affluent countries.
However, from Figure 1.8 it may be seen that over time, in a wealthy nation
such as the USA, increases in national income do not lead to an increase in
the national level of subjective well-being. This is probably because moderate
increases in wealth do not lead to increased power to become better off than
one’s neighbour. The finding that within developed countries the very rich are
slightly happier (although not a great deal happier) than people on an average
wage probably occurs because they view themselves as faring better than every-
one else. These explanations are derived from social comparison theory, which
states that personal happiness is based on the perceived discrepancy between our
own situation and that of others (Suls & Wheeler, 2000). Downward comparison,
where the standard to which we compare our own situation is lower, results in
greater satisfaction than upward comparison. The finding that increased wealth
is not associated with increased happiness in wealthy nations like the USA
is also compatible with Abraham Maslow’s (1954) hierarchy of needs theory,
which entails the view that once basic physical needs for food, shelter, and safety
24 Positive psychology

9 90


8 80

7 70

6 60
5 50

::i I)G
4 40 'iii
3 30

2 20



15 ...I

0 0
Russia 27 Tu rkey 22 Portugal 44 Arge ntina 25 U5A 100 Ireland 52 De nma rk 81
Japan 87 Spain 57 China 9 Nethe rlands 76 Canada 85 Switzerland 96
Germany 89 Italy 77

Figure 1.7 National wealth and life satisfaction

Source: Adapted from Diener, E. (2000). Subjective well-being: The science of happiness and
the proposal for a national index. American Psychologist, 55, 34–43 (p. 37). With permission
from American Psychological Association.
Note: Number after country names are purchasing power parity values. Bar graph is life
satisfaction and line graph is mean purchasing power parity for the group of countries in that bar.

have been met, increased satisfaction comes from meeting higher needs such
as belonging, esteem, and self-actualisation, which do not necessarily require
increased financial resources.
The counterintuitive finding that increased wealth is not always associ-
ated with commensurate increases in happiness has been referred to as the
Easterlin Paradox, after a seminal paper published by the economist Professor
Richard Easterlin at the University of California in 1974. In this paper Easterlin
supported his position with data similar to those presented in Figure 1.8 and
explained it in terms of social comparison theory and adaptation theory (or the
Happiness 25

20k 100

18k 90

16k 80


14k 70

&II >-
12k 60 Il.
cu ~
E >
10k 50 cu
.5 ....c~
8k 40
cu 6k 30
«> %Very happy

4k 20

2k 10

Ok 0
1956 1963 1970 1977 1984 1991 1998
Figure 1.8 Increased wealth and happiness in the USA
Source: Adapted from Myers, E. (2000). The funds, friends and faith of happy people. American
Psychologist, 55, 56–67 (p. 61). With permission from American Psychological Association.
Note: Income data from US Commerce Department, Bureau of the Census and Economic
Indicators. Happiness data from 35,024 cases in the General Social Survey, National Opinion
Research Centre, University of Chicago, USA.

hedonic treadmill). Recent analyses, in which the logarithm of income, rather

than untransformed data (such as that on which Easterlin based his analysis)
were used, have shown a small but significant correlation between happiness
and the logarithm of absolute income. These more recent analyses indicate that
above a certain point happiness increases more slowly than income, but no satu-
ration point is ever reached beyond which income has no effect on happiness
(Stevenson & Wolfers, 2008). Thus, people adapt to increased wealth, but this
adaptation is never complete.
26 Positive psychology

Research findings on wealth and well-being indicate that to be happy we

should try to live in a rich country, earn enough money to avoid poverty, but
direct any surplus energy to goals other than becoming rich. If you are affluent
and from the middle class, it’s unlikely that more money will make you appreci-
ably happier, so it is probably better to pursue non-materialistic goals. For those
who live in poor countries or in affluent societies but who are poor, the research
points to the value of policies that release disadvantaged people from poverty.

The results of cross-sectional surveys, such as those in Figure 1.9, show that mar-
ried people are happier than unmarried people, be they divorced, separated, or
never married (Diener & Diener McGarvan, 2008; Myers, 2000). However, the
least happy of all are people trapped in unhappy marriages. The happiness gap
between married and unmarried women is the same as that for men. So both men
and women reap the same benefits in terms of personal happiness from marriage.
There are two explanations for the link between happiness and marriage: the
selection and protection hypotheses. The selection hypothesis is that more happy
people get married while more unhappy people do not because happy people are
more attractive as marital partners than unhappy people. The protection hypoth-
esis is that marriage confers a range of benefits on people that make them happy.
Marriage provides psychological and physical intimacy, a context within which
to have children and build a home, a social role as a spouse and parent, and a
context within which to affirm identity and create posterity.
There is some evidence to support the view that more happy people form
satisfying marriages. In a 17-year German longitudinal study involving over
15,000 cases, Stutzer and Frey (2006) found that those who got married were
initially happier than those who remained single, and those who got divorced
were not only less happy during marriage but also less happy before they got
married. In a follow-back study, Harker and Keltner (2001) found that middle-
aged women whose college yearbook photographs showed them displaying a
Duchenne smile had lived happier lives and had more fulfilling and longstand-
ing marriages than women who showed a false smile in their college yearbook
photos. In a Duchenne smile (named after Guillaume Duchenne who discovered
it) the corners of the mouth turn up and the corners of the eyes crinkle into a pattern
of skin creases like crows feet. With a false smile, these features are absent. This
was a well-controlled study. The 141 participants had no idea that the quality
of their smiles in their college yearbook photos would be judged by trained raters
30 years later. Also these raters were unaware of participants’ satisfaction with
life or marriage in middle life. Furthermore, when photos were rated for good
looks, these were found to be unrelated to life or marital satisfaction.
A range of factors, besides happiness, have been identified as significant in
the formation of stable and satisfying marriages. These include:
1 personal characteristics, strengths, and vulnerabilities;
2 the couple’s interactional style; and
3 the stresses and supports in the couple’s wider social context (Bradbury &
Karney, 2004).
Happiness 27





1\1 25





Married Never Divorced Separated Married Never Divorced Separated

married married


Figure 1.9 Marital status and happiness

Source: Adapted from Myers, E. (2000). The funds, friends and faith of happy people. American
Psychologist, 55, 56–67 (p. 63). With permission from American Psychological Association.
Note: Based on data from 35,024 cases in the General Social Survey, National Opinion Research
Centre, USA, 1972–1996.

With regard to personal characteristics, partners who have the capacity to regu-
late anger and negative affect show better marital adjustment because they do
not let small disagreements snowball into big aggressive conflicts. Partners simi-
lar in personality, ability, physical attractiveness, attitudes, interests, values, and
politics are more likely to experience marital satisfaction, remain married, avoid
conflict and infidelity, and provide their children with a stable home environment
(Buss, 2000). This may be because it is easier to empathise with people similar to
ourselves and so partners similar to ourselves feel understood by us more easily.