Happiness means different things to different people, but happiness or well-being researchers have typically broken down happiness into three components:
- Absence of negative emotions
- Presence of positive emotions
- Life satisfaction
Jeff Woloson in Thailand. The birds atop Jeff’s head and left arm are Brahminy Kites; the larger bird on his right arm is a young White-bellied Sea-eagle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I recently extended this framework to include life outlook as an integral component of happiness and you can read more about the same at my The Mouse Trap blog here.
To me, this break-up of well-being into negative emotions, positive emotions and life satisfaction seems incomplete and I propose adding another component to the mix: life outlook.
Life outlook, is how excited you are about the possibilities of the future, and in your ability to make your dreams come true; it is future oriented, unlike life satisfaction which is past oriented; though like life satisfaction, I believe, it can be reliably measured by self-report method. This involves an attitude of looking forward to whatever life has to offer; to be truly considered ‘happy’ one should be hopeful and optimistic, rather than resigned or pessimistic.
So well-being= ‘presence of +ve emotions’ + ‘lack of -ve emotions’ + ‘life satisfaction’ + ‘+ve life outlook’
Life satisfaction is typically measured using Satisfaction with Life scale; the absence of positive and negative emotions by PANAS scale. I would suggest to know real well-being of a person we also need to measure Life Outlook and this can be tentatively done by using the Adult Hope scale, although to be frank we probably need a new measure.
We control what we measure and to me it is apparent that if we want to control our happiness i.e. maximize it we also need to be able to measure its components and see improvements.
What is interesting is that each type of happiness is associated with a different type of self, and based on the properties of these selves, different method of increasing happiness apply to different selves.
Take minimizing negative/unhelpful emotions, this is associated with Materialistic self and you could possibly reduce discomfort by gaining material possessions. Beyond a certain point more possessions or assets typically lead to increasing hedonistic pleasure, but no gain in real happiness. Conversely having negative possessions or liabilities is likely to make you unhappy. So buy that new iPhone but not at the cost of a materialistic liability like a recurring EMI.
Or take maximizing positive/ helpful emotions that are related to the experiencing self, and by having intense ‘in the moment’ experiences you could possibly feel euphoric joy. An experiential purchase like a vacation or attending a concert may lead to real joyful experience. If you were focused on this type of happiness you are better off maximizing positive experiences in your life; and reducing the negative experiences or hassles. If planning and executing for that vacation is more of a hassle, and if even on the vacation, you can’t live in the moment, then perhaps you are better off not taking that vacation:)
Similarly, it has been found that life satisfaction is related to income/wealth and I associate it with the Remembering self. To me, it is all about building a corpus(typically of wealth/ status, but at times of experiences) about which you could reflect back and feel good about yourself. It is also related to making use of past opportunities and if one doesn’t dare greatly then one is doomed to live with regret. Opportunity cost is one construct relevant to this. To maximize this sort of happiness, one can satisfy rather than maximize, while making decisions, so that regret is lowest.
Lastly, we have life outlook that I relate to the Anticipatory self or the Homo Prospectus. As I came up with the construct idea last night only, not much research has apparently happened on this:-) and we don’t know with what it correlates. I believe investing in yourself, by say investing into your psychological resources like building confidence and resilience, may be one way of maximizing this sort of happiness. To have SMART and WISE goals for oneself seems like another factor that may lead to being more hopeful about life; on the other hand not having any goals/ dreams could lead to an attitude of resignation and lead to living lives of quiet desperation. So to maximize this type of happiness perhaps its important to have the right types of goals: WISE, intrinsic and other-oriented.
All happiness are created equal, but some happiness are created more equal than the others. Its best to figure out which type of happiness makes most sense to you and then to go ahead and maximize that kind of happiness. Here is wishing you loads of happiness as you venture forth on that path. Happy flourishing!