the 1960's when such comprehensive research began, there have
been over 3,000 published papers on Subjective Well-Being (SWB),
or happiness, and the number of publications is increasing
exponentially (Veenhoven, in press). During these last forty
years, however, less than a dozen published studies have
attempted interventions to increase happiness (see Fava, 1999;
Fava, Rafanelli, Cazzaro, Conti & Grandi, 1998; Fava & Ruini,
2003; Fordyce 1977, 1983; Lichter, Haye & Kammann, 1980; Reich
and Zautra 1981; Sheldon, Kasser, Smith, & Share,
2002). [Citations are from a citations list compiled by Sonja
Lyubomirsky, Ken Sheldon and David Schkade]. This scarcity is
highly anomalous especially considering that initial SWB
increase experiments were highly successful, (Fordyce, 1977,
1983; Lichter, et al., 1980).
The majority of Americans rate personal happiness as very
important, (Diener, Suh, Smith, & Shao, 1995; Triandis, Bontempo,
Leung, & Hui, 1990), and respondents in England have rated
happiness as their most important component of Quality of Life;
even more important to them than money, health, and sex (Skevington,
MacArthur, & Somerset, 1997). However, the average American is
only 69 percent happy, and happy only 54 percent of the time
(Seligman, 2002). Also, at any given time, one in every four
Americans is suffering from mild depression (Seligman, 1994).
While the happiness level of over one quarter of the American
population falls between 57 and 71 percent, and 8 percent are
even less than 57 percent happy, one fifth of Americans are over
85 percent happy, (Andrews & Withey, 1976) suggesting that much
greater happiness is also quite possible for less happy
While we might be inclined to attribute this greater happiness
to greater wealth, or related advantages, Diener, Horwitz, and
Emmons (1985) found that Americans with a net worth of over $125
million were only trivially happier than randomly selected
controls, and that 37 percent of the people on Forbes'
list of wealthiest Americans were less happy than the average
American. Also, personal wealth in the U.S. has more than
doubled since W.W.II, however, Americans are no happier today
than they were in 1945 (Myers, 2000). In fact, Nigeria is now
the happiest nation in the world, followed by Mexico, Venezuela,
El Salvador, and Puerto Rico, with the U.S. ranked 16th.
(World Values Study Group, in press).
are three basic reasons why happiness increase research has been
so neglected. Firstly, hedonic adaptation theory (Headey and
Wearing, 1989; Frederick & Lowenstein, 1999) and genetic "set
point" studies (Lykken & Tellegen 1996) have predicted that
long-term happiness increase is not possible. However, recent
demographic data coauthored by the leading SWB researcher, Ed
Diener, (Lucas, Clark, Georgellis, & Diener, 2003) has shown
long-term happiness increase to be a matter of fact. Secondly,
SWB has historically been greatly undervalued by psychology, and
clinical psychology in particular. For example, published
psychological articles of negative emotions outnumber those of
positive emotions by a ratio of 17 to 1 (Myers, & Diener, 1995),
and SWB is generally not used as an outcome variable in therapy
effectiveness studies, (Veenhoven, in press). Thirdly, funding
happiness increase research has been difficult because there has
been no industry wide vested interest in these findings, as
there has been in, for example, research to demonstrate the
effectiveness of anti-depressant medications, (R. Veenhoven,
personal communication, June 3, 2003).
psychologist most actively promoting happiness increase
applications is former American Psychological Association
president, Martin E. P. Seligman who published a book on
happiness (Seligman, 2002), and currently offers extensive
happiness coaching instruction through his website -
http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/ . Giovanni Fava,
Ken Sheldon and Sonja Lyubomirsky are the researchers most
involved in happiness increase experimentation. "Pursuing
happiness: The architecture of sustainable change" by Sheldon,
Lyubomirsky, & Schkade (Manuscript submitted for publication),
provides a general review of happiness increase research.
Happiness is supremely important to us, yet we marginally
succeed in achieving it largely because we seek it in many ways
that are either totally ineffective, or just slightly effective
(For reviews, see Argyle, 2001; Diener, Suh, Lucas, & Smith,
1999; Myers, 1992). When, however, over the course of four
weeks, Fordyce (1977) instructed subjects in 14 fundamentals of
happiness, and Lichter and colleagues (Lichter, et al., 1980)
asked some subjects to discuss and consider happiness relevant
issues, and others to recite happiness increasing affirmations
for ten minutes each morning, subjects experienced an average 25
percent happiness boost. These and several other successful
happiness increase methodologies could be used in happiness
training programs, however, because this body of research is so
small, it has been largely ignored by business and government
(Notable exceptions are Bhutan, which has officially declared
itself more concerned with its citizens' happiness than the
country's GDP (Bond, 2003), and Great Britain, who recently
commissioned and published an extensive report on why and how
their government should develop policies designed to raise the SWB level of its citizens.
A more extensive and authoritative body of happiness increase
experiments would likely encourage businesses to take notice and
offer happiness increase instruction as a product, and
governments to use published methodologies as blueprints by
which to develop happiness increase courses for school
curriculums. These two vehicles alone could produce substantial
and lasting happiness increases for many millions of individuals
throughout the world. Psychologists have a profound
responsibility as professionals uniquely qualified to encourage
and conduct research needed to assist the world in better
succeeding with our most fundamental desire; happiness.
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