November 8, 4 min read. Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own. More from Entrepreneur. Get heaping discounts to books you love delivered straight to your inbox.
1. Worrying about the future and other people’s opinions of you
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Try risk free for 60 days. Start My Plan. Latest on Entrepreneur. If you know your purpose, it gives you direction. It makes you happy.
What is Happiness, Anyway?
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Image credit: Westend61 Getty Images. Shawn Doyle. Guest Writer. November 8, 4 min read. Instead, it has been replicated in many different populations in many nations around the world. Thus, when psychologists study the correlates of happiness, they are usually looking for factors that distinguish the very happy from the mildly happy rather than the happy from the miserable. Psychologists have arrived at several surprising conclusions in their search for predictors of happiness. Many of the factors that may first come to mind do not seem to play a major role in happiness.
For example, although people strive to acquire high-paying jobs and dream about winning the lottery, income is not strongly correlated with happiness. Wealthy people are happier than poorer people, but the difference is not very large. As one might expect, the association between money and happiness is strongest among very poor groups and among poor countries. Income leads to smaller and smaller gains in happiness as income levels rise. Health also plays a role in subjective well-being, but the associations are, again, surprisingly small. In addition, although people with major health problems, such as paralyzing spinal-cord injuries, are quite a bit less happy than uninjured people, the difference is not as large as some might expect.
Even people with very serious illnesses tend to report happiness scores that are above neutral. The factor that has been most closely linked to high levels of happiness is social relationships. Research consistently shows that people who have strong social relationships tend to report higher levels of well-being. As with other domains, subjective reports of relationship quality and relationship satisfaction tend to exhibit the highest correlations with subjective well-being.
But even more objective measures, including the number of close friends a person has, the number of social organizations to which the person belongs, and the amount of time the person spends with others, all show small to moderate correlations with happiness. As one might expect based on this research, specific types of social relationships are also important for subjective well-being. For instance, marital status is one of the strongest demographic predictors of happiness. Married people consistently report higher levels of happiness than single people, who report greater happiness than the widowed, divorced, or separated.
Interestingly, however, it does not appear that marriage itself causes higher levels of subjective well-being. Longitudinal studies show that people only receive a small boost in happiness around the time they get married, and they quickly adapt to baseline levels. The differences between married and unmarried people are due primarily to the lasting negative effects of divorce and widowhood, along with selection effects that might actually predispose happy people to marry.
Other demographic characteristics also show weak associations with happiness. Religious people tend to report greater happiness than nonreligious people, though the size of these effects varies depending on whether religious beliefs or religious behaviors are measured.
Factors such as intelligence, education , and job prestige are also only slightly related to well-being. Happiness does not seem to change dramatically over the course of the life span, except perhaps at the very end of the life when declines are somewhat steep. In addition, sex differences in subjective well-being are not large. In contrast to the relatively weak effects of external circumstance, research shows that internal factors play a strong role in subjective well-being.
Individual differences in happiness-related variables emerge early in life, are stable over time, and are at least partially heritable. For instance, behavioral genetic studies show that identical twins who were reared apart are quite a bit more similar in their levels of happiness than are fraternal twins who were reared apart.
This suggests that genes play an important role. Most estimates put the heritability of subjective well-being components at around 40—50 percent for positive emotional states and between 30—40 percent with respect to the negative emotional states of depression and anxiety.
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Personality researchers have shown that at least some of these genetic effects may be due to the influence of specific personality traits on happiness. For example, the stable personality trait of extraversion is moderately correlated with positive affect that is, the feeling of a positive emotion and, to a lesser extent, with life satisfaction and negative affect that is, the feeling of a negative emotion. People who are outgoing, assertive , and sociable tend to report more intense and more frequent positive emotions.
This association is so robust that some psychologists have even suggested that the two constructs—extraversion and positive affect—are controlled by the same underlying physiological systems. Similarly, researchers have shown that the basic personality trait of neuroticism is moderately to strongly correlated with negative affect and again, to a lesser extent, with life satisfaction and positive affect.
Happiness Quotes ( quotes)
There is a popular notion that the way that people view the world should influence their happiness. Some people always look for the silver lining in things, and presumably this positive outlook shapes the emotions that they feel. Psychologists, too, believe that the way that one thinks about the world is related to characteristic levels of happiness.
For instance, many researchers examine the role that social comparison processes play in happiness.