Most of the research on happiness refers to subjective wellbeing* (SWB), sometimes called hedonic wellbeing.
Here’s what researchers generally agree about SWB:
- It’s somewhat stable. Over time people tend to stay within a range of happiness, allowing of course for the inevitable ups and downs of life.
- It’s fairly consistent across life areas. People who are moderately happy at work are often moderately happy in relationships, again allowing for highs and lows.
- It involves a judgement about how satisfactory life is, compared to expectations. A rich, loved, attractive person expecting more than they have might be unhappy, while a less favored person who’s satisfied with their life might be perfectly content.
- It involves experiencing more positive than negative feelings overall.
When people talk about ‘happiness’, they usually mean this long-term, overall, thinking and feeling idea of SWB.
Happiness strategy: Get clear about happiness
You can tell from this definition that happiness is much broader than either mood – like waking up grumpy – or state – like getting stressed because work is overwhelming. You can have bad days, rough times and disappointments but still be a happy person, enjoying SWB.
With this in mind, you can take a broad view of happiness to help keep short-term hassles in perspective. Letting your troubles trick you into thinking that you’re miserable or life sucks can put you on a path toward depression. But seeing happiness as more stable can stop those inevitable ill winds from blowing your house down.
It also helps to notice the role expectations play in your happiness. If you expect things to be fabulous all the time you’re sure to find life less satisfying than if you’re prepared for a more varied life experience.
This strategy really comes down to seeing happiness in a more empowering way – adjusting your gauge to encompass your whole life and monitoring your expectations so they serve rather than undermine your happiness.
It’s a theme we’ll return to again and again – being happy is largely in your head.
*SWB differs from psychological wellbeing, which is marked by having a sense of meaning, purpose and growth in life. It’s sometimes called eudaimonic wellbeing. Although psychological wellbeing is an interesting field of theory and research, this series will focus on SWB.
Argyle, M. (2001). The psychology of happiness (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.
Diener, E. (1984). Subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 95(3), 542-575.
Diener, E. (2000). Subjective well-being: The science of happiness and a proposal for a national index. American Psychologist, 55(1), 34-43.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2001). On happiness and human potentials: A review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Annual Review of Psychology, 52(1), 141-166.
Spangler, W. D., & Palrecha, R. (2004). The relative contributions of extraversion, neuroticism, and personal strivings to happiness. Personality and Individual Differences, 37(6), 1193-1203.
Veenhoven, R. (1991). Questions on happiness: Classical topics, modern answers, blind spots. In F. Strack, M. Argyle & N. Schwarz (Eds.), Subjective well-being: An interdisciplinary perspective (pp. 7-26). Oxford England: Pergamon Press.
This post is part of a series covering simple, practical, research-inspired, happiness strategies you can use in your own life. For more information about the series, check out the 101 Happiness Strategies main page.