6 Core Findings About Human Happiness

Human Happiness

We all want to be happy and keep chasing happiness. Don’t you? This blog covers some core discoveries about human happiness that may take you closer to happiness by overcoming some false beliefs about being happy (if you have any).

I’m looking at my bookcase at the number of books with happiness in the title.

  • The Art of Happiness
  • The Happiness Hypothesis
  • The Happiness Project
  • The How of Happiness
  • Hardwiring Happiness
  • The Happiness Track
  • Delivering Happiness
  • The Pursuit of Happiness
  • Authentic Happiness
  • The Happiness Trap
  • Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth

Frankly, it is exhausting to even contemplate reading them again. The scientific study of happiness is not new. Search for peer-reviewed scientific articles with “happiness” in the title and you will find tens of thousands to sift through. We have learned a great deal about happiness, including how it is not just a desired state but the cause of benefits as wide-ranging as accomplishing important goals, creativity, healthy social relationships, physical health, and coping with adversity.

It’s hard to pinpoint the origin of happiness research. Originally, my plan was to discuss 1984 – the year when Dr. Ed Diener published a seminal review of 700 studies and 18 measures on how to study happiness and what we know about causes such as income, age, gender, race, employment, education, religion, marriage, family, and social participation. An article that has been cited over 18,000 times! (Click here to uncover three lessons from Ed Diener’s research.)

Also in 1984, Dr. Ruut Veenhoven published a 477-page manifesto reviewing 245 studies on whether happiness can be measured, the antecedents, and the individual differences and societal living conditions that are most relevant. Amazingly, this tome has only been cited 1,658 times.

Why did the work of these two researchers produce such dissimilar influences? What future directions did these researchers suggest? Where did Ed Diener and Ruut Veenhoven agree and disagree? How many of their ideas from 1984 remain lost or unexplored? I will get to the answers to these questions in another blog post. Before I discuss their contributions, we have to discuss a pioneer who preceded them by 15 years.

In 1969, Dr. Norman Bradburn published his monograph, The Structure of Psychological Well-Being. It was a revolutionary contribution. His conclusion alone, on page 233, foreshadows modern use of happiness research for public policy:

“The wisdom of a particular social policy depends considerably on the extent to which it is able to accomplish the goals to which it is addressed. Insofar as we have greater understanding of how people arrive at their judgments of their own happiness and how social forces are related to these judgments, we shall be in a better position to formulate and execute effective social policies.”

Unlike the future leaders of positive psychology, who claimed to be descriptive, not prescriptive, Dr. Bradburn sought to help people in society from the onset, especially those deprived of economic and social opportunities. He ensured that his study would include more than college students and those who are financially well-off.

Also read 15 Good Reasons Why We All Suck At Life

He knew that social factors are important which led him to sample from an all-white suburb in Detroit, an all-Black area in Detroit’s inner city, a working-class neighborhood in Chicago, a wealthy suburb near Washington, D.C., and finally a nationwide sampling of residents from the ten largest cities to offer a broad vantage point.

It is worthwhile to detail his discoveries for two reasons.

  • First, to understand the lasting legacy of a single scientific contribution.
  • Second, to consolidate his discoveries in hopes of adding to them.

Here Are Six Discoveries By Bradburn That Predated Positive Psychology By Three Decades:

1. A Lot Of People Are Very Happy.

Among a sample of men who lost their job because of a plant shutdown, 22 percent reported being “very happy” and 44 percent reported being “pretty happy.” This is not far off from residents in a wealthy Washington, D.C. suburb where 33 percent reported being “very happy” and 61 percent reported being “pretty happy.”

As for the all-Black inner-city sample, 20 percent reported being “very happy” in the first two months of 1963, and 31 percent reported being “very happy” in the last two months. Each of these groups is in the vicinity of the 33 percent of adults sampled from ten metropolitan cities who said they are “very happy.”

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Todd B Kashdan

A world-recognized authority on well-being, strengths, social relationships, stress, and anxiety, Dr. Todd Kashdan has published over 200 articles in peer-reviewed journals and is the author of The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why being your whole self - not just your “good” self - drives success and fulfillment (Hudson Street Press) and Curious? Discover the missing ingredient to a fulfilling life (HarperCollins). His books have been translated into over 15 languages. Dr. Kashdan is a Professor of Psychology at George Mason University. He received the American Psychological Association's Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology and the Distinguished Faculty Member of the Year at George Mason University. He is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, and Association for Contextual and Behavioral Science.View Author posts