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Key Happiness Facts

World's Happiest Countries (2004):
1. Nigeria
 2. Mexico
 3. Venezuela
 4. El Salvador
 5. Puerto Rico
 (U.S. ranks 16th)

Countries with Highest Levels of Subjective Well-Being (2004):
1. Puerto Rico
 2. Mexico
 3. Denmark
 4. Columbia
 5. Ireland

Click here for the complete ranking and more information

Americans consider happiness more important to them than money, moral goodness, and even going to Heaven.

Americans are, on average, only 69 percent happy.

The world population is, on average, less than 65 percent happy.

37 percent of the people on Forbes list of Wealthiest Americans are less happy than the average American.

At any given time, one forth of Americans are mildly depressed

14 percent of the nations on Earth are less than 50 percent happy.

Happiness Increase Experiments published in peer review journal have empirically demonstrated that individuals can be trained to be 25 percent happier through various training programs in from two to ten weeks.

All demographic variables combined, including age, sex, income, race, and education, are responsible for only 15 percent of the difference in happiness levels between individuals.

American Children feel happy 52 percent of the time, neutral 29 percent of the time, and unhappy 19 percent of the time.

Americans' personal income has increased more than 2 1/2 times over the last 50 years, but their happiness level has remained the same.

Americans earning more that $10 million annually are only slightly happier than average Americans.

(Click here for Citations and a Brief Paper on How our World Can Become Much Happier)










Happiness Skills Theory
 (Concise Draft)

By George Ortega



In the 1960's, the comprehensive scientific study of Subjective Well-Being (SWB), colloquially known as happiness, began.  Since then, a number of theories have intended to explain how SWB comes about, and what factors account for individual differences in the level of this experience.  These theories fall into major categories that have been labeled telic theories, activity theories, top-down versus bottom up theories, associationistic theories, and judgment theories (Diener, 1984).  In their review Diener, Suh, Lucas and Smith (1999), analyzed correlative predictions of these theories in relation to Wilson's (1967) conclusions regarding SWB.  Diener and Lucas (2000), then presented a detailed critical analysis of four major theories; needs theory, goals theory, relative standards theory, and cultural approaches, finding them compatible, however incomplete.  They presented a more unified, fundamental model, which they labeled Evaluation Theory, that regards SWB as resulting from individuals' "evaluations of incoming information that have relevance for well-being," (p.69). 

Diener and Lucas' general explanation of SWB is accurate, however, Evaluation Theory and previous theories leave more specific, basic process that underlie SWB unconsidered.  Especially important are the roles that stimuli appraised at the level of discrete emotion, and classical learning, play in explaining the causes of, and individual differences in, SWB.  This paper proposes a model of SWB, called Happiness Skills Theory, that outlines the development of SWB from the basic emotion, to the mood, and finally, to the state, called happiness.  It also describes happiness, fundamentally, as a learned skill, and explains how individuals' varying success in implementing specific components of this skill, like positive-cognition creation, positive appraisal, and overall happiness-skill habit formation, account for individual differences in SWB.

SWB has been defined as having four independent, yet correlated, components; positive (pleasant) affect, negative (unpleasant) affect (affect including both emotions and moods), domain satisfaction (e.g.. work, family), and life satisfaction (e.g.. the past, the present), (Diener et al., 1999).  The correlation between these components led Stones and Korza, (1985) to suggest the need for a more common factor.  Happiness Skills Theory considers stimuli appraised at the level of discrete emotion to be this unifying factor.  The appraisal of internal and external stimuli, as described by cognitive appraisal emotions theory, (source), underlies not only the affect, but the domain and life satisfaction components of SWB.

In their study of well-being, Bradburn and Caplovits (1965), found only two components; positive affect and negative affect.  Andrews and Withey (1976), found that these two components could not fully account for the results of their factor analysis of global well-being measures, and added a third component which they labeled cognitive evaluation (later labeled satisfaction, and divided into domain and life components by Diener et al., 1999).  The questions they asked in order to determine cognitive evaluation, however, were limited to discovering reported levels, or degrees, of satisfaction.  No attempt was made to discern why, and according to what criteria, these evaluations were made.

Domain and life satisfaction judgments derive directly from discrete emotion rather than logic or reason because these judgments are hedonic rather than eudonic.  A eudonic evaluation might judge a marriage as "good," basing this judgment perhaps on the held belief that marriages are good, however, only an emotional reaction to the marriage will yield a hedonic judgment of the marriage being satisfying.

In domain, and life, satisfactions, the stimulus being appraised is always a condition or circumstance rather than a single event.  The appraisal process, however, takes place at the level of emotion.   Andrews and Withey asked respondents "How do you feel about your marriage?" (p.363).  While the answer to this question yields an accurate evaluation, or judgment, of one's level of satisfaction, a more complete inquiry would reveal the stimulus appraisal that precedes all (check) discrete emotions to be the process determining this satisfaction judgment.  Had respondents reporting a high level of satisfaction with their marriage been asked why this was so, it may have become evident that their marriage was a source of numerous events, or stimuli, that frequently elicited positive emotions such as happiness, pleasure, pride, contentment, and few events and conditions that elicited negative emotions such as anger, sadness, and fear.  The process of weighing the quality and quantity of positive and negative emotions against each other yields a hedonic evaluation that can be referred to as the hedonic quotient.  In our example, marriage satisfaction was based on an evaluated positive hedonic quotient.

The association between satisfaction and appraised stimuli at the level of emotion, however, is not always clear and direct.  When satisfied respondents report that marriage actually brings them more pain than pleasure (a negative hedonic quotient), the salient basis, or stimulus, for their satisfaction is the emotion evoked from the meaning attributed to being married and/or a positive hedonic quotient deriving from ancillary benefits of the marriage.

For example, if respondents' belief system regards marriage as a highly desirable, perhaps sacrosanct institution, this attribution may become the salient stimulus to be appraised and evoke a discrete emotional reaction.  The resulting positive emotion then becomes the criteria for evaluating the marriage, despite its many displeasures, as satisfying.   Alternately, while a marriage, as an isolated condition, may bring more pain than pleasure, it may also provide ancillary benefits such as children, a double income, and respect from the community.  These benefits, singularly, or together, may be considered a salient factor in the marriage's hedonic quotient resulting in an evaluation of the marriage as satisfactory.  Specifically, the discrete emotion of pleasure evoked from a consideration of these ancillary benefits is the salient criteria by which satisfaction is determined.

When evaluating life satisfaction components such as one's past, the level of satisfaction is based on the hedonic quotient of, or meaning attributed to, recalled stimuli, again appraised at the level of discrete emotion.  This evaluation relies on memories of past events and conditions, however, it is the discrete emotional reaction to these recalled stimuli that will ultimately determine the satisfaction judgment.  (section on the future, real emotions, imagined emotions)

Thus, while SWB can be usefully and accurately divided into the four components of positive and negative affect, and domain and life satisfaction, the salient evaluative criteria for each of these components is always the discrete emotion evoked from the appraisal of stimuli.  Also, there is reason to believe that the hedonic quotient alone, and not the emotional consideration of this quotient or of the meaning attributed to certain stimuli, is the sole criteria by which SWB need be based.  (source) found that newborn infants clearly experience happiness, yet they seem to achieve this state without using domain and life satisfaction judgments.  It seems highly unlikely that infants have yet developed the intellectual ability to form these judgment, (source) so their happiness must be based exclusively on their experience of frequent positive, and infrequent negative, affect.

Happiness Skills Theory holds that the state of happiness is fundamentally innate, however as we mature it becomes a learned state, and that its component skills are hierarchical.  The fundamental happiness skill is the ability to experience the emotion, happiness.  In descending order, the other skills are valuation, intention, cognition creation, emotional appraisal, and habit formation. 

The experience of happiness appears to be universal, and to begin in-utero.  Smiling, the prototypical behavior most expressive of the emotion, happiness (Ekman), has been established as an innate, universal behavior (Wolff, 1963; Eible-Eibsfeldt, 1972 (see Izard 1977 p. 248)).  Emde and Koenig (1969) (see Izard 1977 p.249), found that infants smiled during the first few days after birth, and that this smiling occurred predominantly, and perhaps exclusively, during REM sleep.  These smiles were found to occur independent of any outside influence (Nicholson-Habits – get better source).  (Source?)'s finding that infant's experience REM sleep in-utero, coupled with the endogenous nature of infants' observed smiles, strongly suggest that the emotion of happiness in humans is also endogenous, and is first experienced at a time preceding birth.

Since the state of happiness is dependant upon prior emotions and moods of happiness (pleasant affect), these findings are important in explaining the causes of happiness as fundamentally internal, and independent of environmental conditions.  This is, however, not to say that the day- to-day happiness experienced by individuals is independent of environmental influence.  As we mature, we commonly rely more and more on environmental stimuli to initiate, or trigger, our innate emotional happiness response, and, subsequently, our state, happiness. 

The foremost prerequisite to achieving the state, happiness, is the innate, universal ability to endogenously experience pleasure, and, hence, this ability is the first happiness skill.   Individuals vary in their inherited ability to feel pleasure. (section on frontal left lobe activity?)  That the ability to experience pleasure can be enhanced is evidenced by (source)'s study reporting that a Buddhist monk was measured to have far greater than average left frontal lobe activity. 

Once one has experienced pleasure, the second basic skill one uses to ultimately achieve the state, happiness, is attention.  One learns to focus on and remain attentive to pleasurable sensations in order to understand and appreciate them.  This attentiveness then sets the state for the third happiness skill; valuation

Pleasure can be willfully acquired through somatic stimulation, the creation of pleasant cognitions, or through the selective appraisal of bodily, and environmental, stimuli. (source)  Motivation to acquire pleasant emotions is determined by the extent to which an individual values pleasure.  Individuals vary in their valuation of the state, happiness, as is evidenced by studies where subjects from different cultures reported different levels of such valuation (source-Culture and well-being?)  Differences in individuals' valuation of pleasure, thus, appear likely (Ency. Of Psych article on pleasure for genetic component).

Other influences determining to what extent an individual will value pleasure may be seen in childrearing by noting differences in the degree to which parents reward, or punish,  (add religious and cultural component) their child's expressed pleasure.  In one instance, parents may highly value their child's happiness, and communicate this attitude to the child through praise, and other kinds of reward, whenever the child appropriately expresses pleasure.  In another instance where parents are guided by cultural or religious strictures on experiencing pleasure, or have personal difficulty experiencing the emotion, mood, and state of happiness, rewarding the child's happiness may be less prevalent, and, in fact, disapproval and envy elicited by the child’s expressed pleasure may result in the parents' influencing the child to form an evaluation of pleasure as an undesirable, potentially dangerous, experience.  Valuation of pleasure provides the motivation necessary for the fourth happiness skill; pleasure acquisition.

Pleasure is acquired through three different ways, or sub skills.  The first way is by selectively focusing on pleasant stimuli.  When, for example, one attends a concert, one must focus on the music if one is to experience it as a pleasure.  In like manner, to acquire pleasure from a beautiful sunset, it must be actively perceived.

The second way is by appraising stimuli in a manner that induces pleasure.  Every cognition, event, (including thoughts, feelings, etc) and condition is subject to a variety of possible appraisals, and the particular appraisals we make determine the hedonic tone and level of our emotions.  Each moment in time provides a unique appraisal opportunity and the appraised stimuli may consist of endogenous cognitions, or environmental events and conditions, or both.  This strategy is particularly influenced by learning.  For example, were one taught that dogs are generally friendly and safe animals, one would likely appraise the sight of a dog in a pleasant manner.  Had previous learning, however, emphasized the fact that dogs at times attack and bite, seeing a dog would more likely evoke an unpleasant emotion.

During much of one's time, internal and external stimuli command one's attention.  There are, however, also times when one's mind is relatively free from these demands, and is able to create its own endogenous cognitions.  In other words, one is often able to think what one pleases, without having one's thoughts react predominantly to stimuli.  Ordinarily these thoughts come automatically, without having been consciously willed, or created.  One does, however, have the ability to consciously create, and direct, one's thoughts, and the ability to create pleasant cognitions is the third sub skill used to acquire pleasure.  For example, when one attends a wedding reception, one may intend to enjoy the occasion as much as appropriately possible.  This intention may motivate one to create pleasant cognitions that may be expressed, for example, through the relating of (include section on feelings as cognitions) a humorous anecdote, or, physically, through dancing.

The state of happiness, however, does not depend exclusively upon the experience of pleasant affect.  An absence of unpleasant affect is also required.  The next, or fifth happiness skill, minimization of displeasure, is the ability to direct one's focus away from unpleasant stimuli, or to appraise such stimuli in a less painful manner.  If one finds one's gaze has settled on an extremely polluted river, one can choose to divert one's gaze, and attention, and thereby eliminate, or substantially reduce, one's experience of displeasure. Or, upon receiving a parking ticket, for example, an erstwhile happy individual may consider the event as extremely unfortunate, cognitively appraising it as humiliating, unfair, and costly, and thereby experiencing diminished happiness.  Another individual, however, may appraise the same event as minor and inconsequential, minimizing the unpleasantness of the circumstance, and thereby maintaining a happy mood.  How we choose to appraise events determines, in part, how frequently we acquire and maintain pleasant emotions and moods.  Beck's (source), and Ellis' (source) cognitive therapies rely on our ability to pleasantly, or less unpleasantly, appraise thought, events, and conditions, and consciously choosing more pleasant appraisals has been shown to be perhaps the most highly effective method of overcoming unpleasant affect associated with depression (Seligman 19**).

 One's skills of experiencing pleasure, attending to pleasure, valuing pleasure, acquiring pleasure, minimizing displeasure, and committing this learning to habit determine one's ability to achieve and maintain the pleasant emotions and moods that ultimately lead to the state of happiness.  Development of these skills is subject to influences like childrearing, and one fortunate enough to have been raised by parents, or other caregivers, who were adept at using these skills may have learned to do likewise though learning processes such as modeling.  Improving these skills will likely result in increasing one's level of happiness.  The skill is then, over time,  committed to habit, and to the extent that this is achieved, one can create pleasant cognitions without having to consciously will them.  Of course, one may intentionally acquire this habit through various conditioned learning principles and techniques.

Valuing the experience of happiness, however, will not, alone, ensure success in creating the emotion, happiness, with the frequency necessary to ultimately result in state happiness.  Other happiness-creating skills and strategies must also be learned, and then practiced habitually.  While we all, to some extent, adopt the full spectrum of these strategies such as needs fulfillment, goals acquisition, comparison and evaluation (Diener, 1984; Diener et al. 1999), we tend to favor one, or several of them, that best fit our unique character traits and life circumstances.  Needy people would, thus, favor needs fulfillment strategies, while ambitious people would tend to choose goals and comparison strategies for achieving happiness.  (write about the skill of willfully creating pleasant cognitions as the first skill).  Another common factor underlying each of these different approaches is the appraisal process that determines our emotion’s hedonic tone, or degree of pleasure versus pain. 

Of the proposed theories, Evaluation Theory best describes this process of achieving happiness through the evaluation of events and situations.  Evaluation Theory, however, describes these appraisals as occurring at a level of overall judgment.  For example, Evaluation Theory explains happiness gained from a goals strategy as dependant on the appraisal of a goal, and steps taken to achieve it, as meaningful and ultimately happiness producing. (check for validity and more specificity -cite source).  Happiness Skills Theory proposes that these general evaluations of events and conditions are determined by more specific, and fundamental, appraisals that occur at the level of discrete emotion. (Explain more fully the difference between Evaluation and Happiness Skills Theories)

            While Evaluation Theory implies, or may lead one to infer, that the appraisal of events and conditions occurs at the emotional level, it does not, however, either name this fundamental process specifically, or explain the theoretical importance and necessity of appraisal at the emotional level as a fundamental, determinant of happiness.  Evaluation Theory must therefore be regarded as an accurate, but, overly general and incomplete theory of SWB (Note Diener's acknowledgement of this). Happiness Skills theory directly and specifically proposes that appraisal at the emotional level is a fundamental condition for happiness, and emphasizes the importance of other salient components such as experience, cognition creation, evaluation (also cited by ET), selectivity, and habit formation.