The anatomy of happy

Happy thoughts from leading positive psychology researchers.

Robert Biswas-Diener, who is known as the Indiana Jones of Positive Psychology because of his research with diverse and often physically or economically isolated folks on the topic of happiness, describes it as follows. (I’m paraphrasing for the most part.)

Happy people:

    • Often feel good
    • Occasionally feel bad
    • “Are generally satisfied with most, but not necessarily all of the domains” in their lives. (Domains = work, family, income, hobbies, romantic relationships, friends, self, and spirituality)

Sonja Lyubomirsky Ph.D., positive psychology researcher, professor and author lists the following benefits of happiness. (I’m quoting.)

Happy people:

    • “Have higher incomes,
    • Superior work outcomes (e.g., greater productivity and higher quality of work),
    • larger social rewards (e.g., more satisfying and longer marriages, more friends, stronger social support, and richer social interactions),
    • more activity, energy, and flow, and better physical health (e.g., a bolstered immune system, lowered stress levels, and less pain)
    • and even longer life.
    •  . . . are more creative,  helpful, charitable, and self-confident, have better self-control, and show greater self-regulatory and coping abilities.”

Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., a professor and researcher at the University of North Carolina, developed the “broaden and build theory of positive emotions”.

Happy people:

    • are more creative,
    • friendly,
    • helpful,
    • and curious.

And here is the really good news, studies show most of us are pretty darn happy.  To see how you fare on a happiness scale there are lots of free online surveys you can take. To start, you can visit, (Center column, scroll down.) or you can take the following “Satisfaction with Life Scale” below, which was created by Ed Diener Ph.D. Please note the scale is available in multiple languages here.

The Satisfaction with Life Scale

By Ed Diener, Robert A. Emmons, Randy J. Larsen and Sharon Griffin as noted in the 1985 article in the Journal of Personality Assessment.

DIRECTIONS: Below are five statements with which you may agree or disagree. Using

the 1-7 scale below, indicate your agreement with each item by placing the appropriate

number in the line preceding that item. Please be open and honest in your responding.

1 = Strongly Disagree

2 = Disagree

3 = Slightly Disagree

4 = Neither Agree or Disagree

5 = Slightly Agree

6 = Agree

7 = Strongly Agree

______1. In most ways my life is close to my ideal.

______2. The conditions of my life are excellent.

______3. I am satisfied with life.

______4. So far I have gotten the important things I want in life.

______5. If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing

Click here, to see how you score. Keep in mind the info below from Ed Diener when reviewing your score. Many factors impact your score, and raising your score can be fun and fulfilling, which is what Wishful Thinking Works is all about.

“To understand life satisfaction scores, it is helpful to understand some of the components that go into most people’s experience of satisfaction. One of the most important influences on happiness is social relationships. People who score high on life satisfaction tend to have close and supportive family and friends, whereas those who do not have close friends and family are more likely to be dissatisfied. Of course, the loss of a close friend or family member can cause dissatisfaction with life, and it may take quite a time for the person to bounce back from the loss.

Another factor that influences the life satisfaction of most people is work or school, or performance in an important role such as homemaker or grandparent. When the person enjoys his or her work, whether it is paid or unpaid work, and feels that it is meaningful and important, this contributes to life satisfaction. When work is going poorly because of bad circumstances or a poor fit with the person’s strengths, this can lower life satisfaction. When a person has important goals, and is failing to make adequate progress toward them, this too can lead to life dissatisfaction.

A third factor that influences the life satisfaction of most people is personal – satisfaction with the self, religious or spiritual life, learning and growth, and leisure. For many people these are sources of satisfaction. However, when these sources of personal worth are frustrated, they can be powerful sources of dissatisfaction. Of course there are additional sources of satisfaction and dissatisfaction – some that are common to most people such as health, and others that are unique to each individual. Most people know the factors that lead to their satisfaction or dissatisfaction, although a person’s temperament – a general tendency to be happy or unhappy – can color their responses.

There is no one key to life satisfaction, but rather a recipe that includes a number of ingredients. With time and persistent work, people’s life satisfaction usually goes up when they are dissatisfied. People who have had a loss recover over time. People who have a dissatisfying relationship or work often make changes over time that will increase their dissatisfaction. One key ingredient to happiness, as mentioned above, is social relationships, and another key ingredient is to have important goals that derive from one’s values, and to make progress toward those goals. For many people it is important to feel a connection to something larger than oneself. When a person tends to be chronically dissatisfied, they should look within themselves and ask whether they need to develop more positive attitudes to life and the world.”

Copyright by Ed Diener, February 13, 2006

Use is free of charge and granted by permission.


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