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A close-up of a newly opened delphinium flower (Summer 2013).

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Happiness Advantage

The art of living does not consist in preserving and clinging 
to a particular mode of happiness, but in allowing happiness 
to change its form without being disappointed by the change; 
happiness, like a child, must be allowed to grow up.  
~Charles L. Morgan

Today I will write about the happiness advantage--that which fuels creativity, success, and health.

Creativity. Recall the time when you created something remarkable such as a a poem, a painting, lyrics of a song, a vase out from clay, a radio, an antenna, an innovative idea, or any work that has some kind of value. What was your mood at that time? Depressed? Sad? Happy? Angry? Relaxed?

A meta-analysis by Baas, De Dreu, and Bernard (2008) examined 25 years of research (1981-2006) on the relationship between mood and creativity. The extensive study revealed that creativity is enhanced more by positive moods (e.g., happiness) when compared to neutral moods (e.g., being relaxed);  negative moods (e.g., sadness) were not associated with creativity. The meta-analysis covered 66 reports with a total of 102 independent samples and over 7,000 participants.

Creativity involves one's ability to solve problems, generate new insights, and create new products and services. It is critical to both survival and prosperity.

Success. We have been told by parents, teachers, and friends that if we work hard, we will be successful. And once we are successful, then we will be happy.

So we think that if we can finish a degree, find a high-paying job, find the person of our dream, then happiness will follow.

Research however shows the opposite: It is happiness that fuels success, not the other way around. This was also the core message of Shawn Achor's book, The Happiness Advantage.

An extensive review of relevant literature by Lyubomirsky, King, and Diener (2005) found compelling evidence that happiness (defined as the frequent experience of positive emotions), leads to successful outcomes within all of the major life domains (i.e., work, love, health). Being successful is defined as accomplishing those things that are valued by one’s culture and flourishing in terms of the goals set forth by one’s society.

The review was documented from three classes of evidence: cross-sectional, longitudinal, and experimental.

When Lyubomirsky, et al. examined cross-sectional studies, they discovered strong positive relations of happiness with an array of desirable attributes, propensities, and behaviors (e.g., positive perceptions of self and other, sociability, prosocial behavior, likability, creativity, and coping, among others).

When the same researchers explored a number of longitudinal studies they found that (a) long-term happiness precedes the successful outcomes with which it correlates (e.g., thriving, fulfilling and productive work, satisfying relationships, and superior mental and physical health); and (b) both long- term happiness and short-term positive emotions precede the desirable resources and characteristics with which they are related (e.g., prosocial behavior, physical well-being, and adaptive coping).

Lastly, they scrutinized a sizable experimental literature which offered strong evidence that short-term positive emotions cause a range of behaviors paralleling success (e.g., engagement with others and the environment, better conflict management, more flexibility and original thinking).

In short, this extensive review of related literature provides strong evidence that happiness can lead to success.

Health. If you are an unhappy person, it might be to your advantage to adapt a happy disposition or maybe learn how to be happy. An extensive review of literature by Diener and Chan (2011) indicated that subjective well-being (life satisfaction, absence of negative emotions, optimism, and positive emotions) causes better health and longevity. These researchers reviewed 160 studies to determine if subjective well-being, such as happiness, predict health and longevity.

Diener and Chan found substantial and compelling evidence that subjective well-being (i.e., being happy) was related to health and longevity while negative emotions (i.e., depression, anger) play a major role in the development of cardiovascular disease and its progression.

They have other interesting findings: optimists had a quicker post-surgical recovery among bypass patients; pessimists had higher blood pressure levels; positive emotions were related to better immune function and greater tolerance for pain.

The evidences from the studies mentioned above highlights the benefits of positive emotions such as  happiness. However, it would be unreasonable to conclude that only happiness accounts for all forms of success and thriving. There are other variables, such as intelligence, family connections, lifestyle,  and physical fitness that contribute to one's creativity, success, and health and longevity.

I wish you "chronic happiness," my readers!

Enjoy your week. Be happy!

Don't forget to leave your comments below.


Baas, M.,  De Dreu, C., & Nijstad, B. A. (2008). A meta-Analysis of 25 years of mood–creativity research: Hedonic tone, activation, or regulatory focus? Psychological Bulletin, 134(6), 779 – 806.

Diener, E. & Chan, M. Y.  (2011). Happy people live longer: Subjective well-being contributes to health and longevity. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. doi:10.1111/j.1758-0854.2010.01045.x

Lyubomirsky, S.,  King, L. & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131(6), 803– 855.

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