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'Very Happy People'

Ed Diener
University of Illinois
Martin E. P. Seligman
University of Pennsylvania

Published in 'Psychological Science', 13(1), January 2002

Diener and Seligman suggest that knowing how very happy people function might provide information on how to buffer very unhappy people against psychological illness.  This study was the first to examine the behavioural and personality correlates of high happiness by focusing on the lifestyles and personalities of the very happiest people.  

Participants were 222 college students from University of Illinois who took part in the study over the period of 51 days.  Various scales were used to measure happiness and to determine the 'very happy', the 'average', and the 'least happy' individuals.  The very happy people consisted of the happiest 10%.

The findings of this study were intriguing, despite being limited to a sample of college students measured in a cross-section.  The 'very happy' people differed substantially from the 'average' and the 'very unhappy' people in their full and satisfying interpersonal lives - they spent the least time alone & the most time socialising.  They also had stronger romantic and other social relationships than less happy groups.  They were more extraverted, more agreeable, and less neurotic and scored lower on several psychopathology scales.  The happiest respondents did not differ significantly from the other two groups in the amount of time they spent exercising, sleeping, watching TV, and participating in religious activities.  Nor did they differ in alcohol and tobacco use, and they did not experience more or less objectively defined good events.  The happiest people experienced positive, but not ecstatic, feelings most of the time, and they reported occasional negative moods, suggesting that very happy people do have a functioning emotion system that can react appropriately to negative life events.

According to Diener and Seligman, there appears to be no single key to high happiness that automatically produces this state, however there are a number of prerequisites that must be present before it occurs.  Interestingly, social relationships form a necessary but not sufficient condition for high happiness, that is, they do not guarantee high happiness, but it does not appear to happen without them. 

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