By Michael Forrester
It may be suggested that the representation of happiness in online media is collective in nature because it is a picture of happiness communicated by relatively few individuals to the masses. But what means most to our collective happiness? According to a study from Lund University, collective picture of what makes us happy is more about relationships and people, and less about things.
News articles published online by Swedish dailies during 2010 were analyzed in the study. By analyzing which words most often occurred in the same articles as the Swedish word for happiness, the researchers could pinpoint our collective happiness.
"It's relationships that are most important, not material things, and this is in line with other findings in happiness research," says Danilo Garcia, researcher in psychology at the Sahlgrenska Academy's Centre for Ethics, Law and Mental Health.
Words related to objects, such as money (e.g., millions, billions), bestselling gadgets (e.g., iPad, iPhone), and companies (e.g., Google, Windows), are predictive of contexts not recurrent with the word happiness. The results presented here are in accordance with findings in the happiness literature showing that relationships, not material things, are what make people happy. We suggest that our findings mirror a collective theory of happiness, that is, a shared picture or agreement, among members of a community, concerning what makes people happy. The fact that this representation is made public on such a large scale makes it collective in nature.
The article analysis, which embraces more than one and a half million words, shows that words like "Prince Daniel", "Zlatan", "grandmother" and personal pronouns (such as you/me, us/them) often appear with the Swedish word for happiness.
"This doesn't mean that material things make you unhappy, just that they don't seem to come up in the same context as the word for happiness," says Danilo Garcia.
The study is a part of a larger research project on how people describe both positive and negative events in their lives. The researchers believe that the word analysis reflects a collective perception among the members of our society as to what should make us happy.
"Just as the Beatles sang, most people understand that money can't buy you happiness or love," says Danilo Garcia. "But even if we as individuals can understand the importance of close and warm relationships on a social level, it isn't certain that everyone is aware that such relationships are actually necessary for our own personal happiness."
Happiness is not what we believe it to be especially regarding our daily work lives. Empirical research involving 9,000 people from around the world, reveals some astonishing findings. Employees who report being happiest at work:
- Stay twice as long in their jobs as their least happy colleagues
- Spend double their time at work focused on what they are paid to do
- Take ten times less sick leave
- Believe they are achieving their potential twice as much
Strong Social Support and Age Often Increase Our Happiness
According to Roly Russell, an interdisciplinary scientist at the Sandhill Institute for Sustainability and Complexity in Grand Forks, British Columbia, a nation’s human capital (social structures) and natural capital (nature) are more influential in determining happiness than financial capital (income). Russell presented his data at an annual American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Vancouver.
Russell studied numerous studies about happiness in many nations, assessing 248 variables that the various investigations had relied on. The variables ultimately fell into three broad groups of factors: financial and infrastructure (traits such as GDP and gross domestic savings); human and social (years of schooling, freedom of choice); and natural (health of land on which people live, access to nature). He then correlated those factors with the degree to which people said they were happy. Preliminary results indicated that financial factors reflected only about half the variability in happiness across countries, but human and natural capital each accounted for about two thirds of the difference.
Costa Rica had the highest score for life satisfaction among the 123 countries that were represented, even though its GDP is in the world’s lowest third. The single leading factor determining people’s happiness there was a strong social support network.
Psychological well-being has been linked to many important life outcomes, including career success, relationship satisfaction, and health. A report published in Psychological Science, revealed that self-reportedfeelings of well-being tend to increase with age, but that a person’s overall level of well-being depends on when he or she was born and that happiness increases with age.
Happiness Thermostat Can Change Throughout Our Lifetime
Psychologists have long argued that people have a "set point" for happiness. Regardless of what life brings, the set-point theory goes, happiness levels tend to be stable. A big life event could create a boost of joy or a crush of sorrow, but within a few years, people return to a predetermined level of life satisfaction, according to the theory.
"In its extreme form, set-point theory was never credible," Daniel Kahneman, an emeritus professor of psychology at Princeton University and the winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences stated. "If it was taken to mean that the only factor that determines happiness or life satisfaction is genetic, so that people always come back to exactly to the same point, this was utterly incredible."
It's a "useful" demonstration that life changes can influence people's life satisfaction, said Kahneman. However, the correlations between certain goals and traits and happiness doesn't necessarily answer the nature-versus-nurture question.
Garcia's study: "A Collective Theory of Happiness: Words Related to the Word ‘Happiness' in Swedish Online Newspapers" was published in the scientific periodical Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.
Michael Forrester is a spiritual counselor and is a practicing motivational speaker for corporations in Japan, Canada and the United States.