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Building Blocks of Bliss

Interesting how after all the research done on the subject, we don’t really know what the key to happiness is. It would seem that we can’t just put it down to one or two things, but it looks like we might be getting closer to knowing … This article from Psychology Today explains the latest findings.
An optimistic outlook and strong interpersonal bonds are key to happiness.

If Tolstoy was correct in his famous statement that happy families are essentially “happy in the same way,” researchers have yet to find that common denominator. When it came to analyzing extremely happy college students, researchers were reduced to triangulation: The very happy are not more religious, nor do they exercise or sleep more than the rest of us. True, they spend more time socializing and receive the highest self and peer ratings on the quality of their relationships.

But some unhappy students were equally social and boasted satisfactory relationships, according to Martin Seligman, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and Edward Diener, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who compared college students in the top 10 percent on bliss indices to those whose moods were average to miserable. The researchers liken happiness to “symphonic music necessitating many instruments, without any one being sufficient for the beautiful quality.”

Diener describes the top-rated students as “happy most of the time, rather than intensely happy a lot.” Interestingly, 6 of the 22 extremely happy students exhibited a degree of hypomania indicative of “active, energetic people who are very self-confident.”

While optimism is not tantamount to happiness, optimists and the very happy both have strong social networks. This support system, as well as coping mechanisms such as the “every cloud has a silver lining” mentality, known as “positive reinterpretation and growth,” enables optimists to better weather stress and depression.

“Most personality psychologists examine the benefits of optimism in terms of what optimists do for themselves,” explains Ian Brissette, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Rutgers University, who studied 89 college freshmen during their first semester at school. But “benefits may also stem from the ability to develop social support,” says Brissette. “Optimists experience better mental health not only because of what they do but because of what others do for them.” The results were published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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