ed at the University of Illinois by Dienerand Seligmanfound that the most salientcharacteristics shared by the 10% of stu-dents with the highest levels of happinessand the fewest signs of depressionweretheir strong ties to friends and family andcommitment to spending time withthem. “Word needs to be spread,” con-cludes Diener. “It is important to work onsocial skills, close interpersonal ties andsocial support in order to be happy.”
MEASURING OUR MOODS
Of course, happiness is not a static state.Even the happiest of people—the cheeriest10%—feel blue at times. And even the bluesthave their moments of joy. Thathas present-ed a challenge to social scientists trying tomeasure happiness. That, along with thesimple fact that happiness is inherently sub- jective. To get around those challenges, re-searchers have devised several methods of assessment. Dienerhas created one of themost basicand widely usedtools, the Satis-faction with Life Scale.Though some schol-
TIME, JANUARY 17, 2005
ars have questioned the validity of this sim-ple, ﬁve-question survey, Diener has foundthat it squares well with other measures of happiness, such as impressions from friendsand family, expressionof positive emotionand low incidence of depression.Researchers have devised other tools tolook at more transient moods.Csikszentmi-halyi pioneered a method of using beepersand, later, handheld computers to contactsubjects at random intervals. A pop-upscreen presents an array of questions: What are you doing? How much are youenjoying it? Are you alone or interacting with someone else? The method, called ex-perience sampling, is costly, intrusive andtime consuming, but it provides an excel-lent picture of satisfaction and engagementat a speciﬁc time during a speciﬁc activity. Just last month, a team led by Nobel-prizewinning psychologist Daniel Kahne-manof Princeton University unveiledanew tool for sizing up happiness:the day-reconstruction method. Participants ﬁll outa long diary and questionnaire detailingeverything they did on the previous dayand whom they were with at the time andrating a range of feelings during each epi-sode(happy, impatient, depressed, worried,tired, etc.) on a seven-point scale. The meth-od was tested on a group of 900women inTexas with some surprising results. Itturned out that theﬁve most positive activ-ities for these women were (in descendingorder) sex, socializing, relaxing, prayingor meditating, and eating. Exercising and watching TVwere not far behind. But waydown the list was “taking care of my chil-dren,” which ranked below cooking andonly slightly above housework.That may seem surprising, given thatpeople frequently cite their children as theirbiggest source of delight—whichwas a ﬁnd-ing of a T
poll on happiness conductedlast month. When asked, “What one thing inlife has brought you the greatest happiness?”,35% said it was their children or grandchil-dren or both. (Spouse was far behind at just9%, and religion a runner-up at 17%.) Thediscrepancy with the study of Texas women
JustHow HappyAre We? ...
TIME POLL FEELING GOOD IN THE U.S.
Do you consider yourself an optimist?
Based on their own assessment, Americans are overwhelmingly happy and optimistic people, regardless of income
Over $100,000 a year$50,000 to $99,999$35,000 to $49,999Under $35,000 a year68%24%14%13%11%7%5%2%1%81%37%13%33%15%2%85%88%78%16%5%
... not very often?... some of the time... most or all of the timeWould you say you are happy ...
Would you say that so far you have lived the best possible life that you could have,a very good life, a good life, a fair life or a poor life?
Best possible Very goodGoodFairPoor
Do you generally wake up happy?
Depends/ don’t know: 6%
Depends/ don’t know: 6%
This TIME poll was conducted by telephone Dec. 13-14, 2004, among 1,009 adult Americans by SRBI Public Affairs. Margin of error is
3 percentage points. “Not sure” omitted for some questionsAll of the timeMost of the time
... AndWhat Makes UsThat Way?
Most people find happiness in family connections and friendships
Talk to friends/familyPray/meditateHave sex Take a drive in a carEatGo out with friendsExercise/work outPlay with a pet Take a bath or showerHelp others in needListen to music
Do you often do any of the following to improve your mood?
Your relationship with your children Your friends and friendshipsContributing to the lives of others Your relationship with spouse/partner or your love life Your degree of control over your life and destiny The things you do in your leisure time Your relationship with your parents Your religious or spiritual life and worshipHoliday periods, such as Christmas and New Year
What are your major sources of happiness?
What one thing in your life has brought you the greatest happiness?
Top four answers Top eight answers