Researchers Plot New Course to Happiness

September 19, 2008 10:31 AM
by Shannon Firth
New research that shows literate people are more satisfied and more likely to have significant others is one of many studies that have attempted to quantify happiness.

Happiness Is a Good Book

A study from Britain’s National Literacy Trust says that literate people are more likely to be happy, the United Press International reported. The study suggests that “22 percent of men with poor literacy still live with their parents, compared to 9 percent of those with higher reading skills.”

Additionally, the study reported that 68 percent of men and 70 percent of women who are highly literate are married or living with significant others, by the age of 34, as opposed to 52 percent of men and 60 percent of women with poor reading skills.

Literate adults were also more likely to buy a home and to vote, according to the results. The report categorized “poor readers” as those who read at the level of a seven-year-old or lower, and “good readers” as those with literacy levels equal to those of an 11-year-old. The report also found that those with lower literacy levels were “likely to drink and smoke.”

Background: A profile of happiness

Other recent happiness studies have addressed a range of questions, for instance, whether married people are happier than unmarried people. The American Psychologists Association, reporting on a 15-year study of more than 24,000 Germans, explained that getting married gives people a temporary “boost in life satisfaction” before they return to previous levels of happiness. Furthermore, individuals who marry and remain married often had higher levels of life satisfaction than their unmarried counterparts well before the marriage took place.
In 2002, USA Today reported on new psychology studies that revealed, “The happiest people surround themselves with family and friends, don’t care about keeping up with the Joneses next door, lose themselves in daily activities and, most important, forgive easily.” Studies found that people are happiest when they lose their awareness of themselves and their worries by engaging in activities they find rewarding. Claremont Graduate University psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it “flow.” Martin Seligman, a professor and author of the book “Authentic Happiness,” says people have a “set point” for happiness in the same way they do for weight; it can improve and deteriorate but usually doesn’t shift too drastically from this level.

China Daily reported on a survey from a World Values Survey study released last week, which said happiness levels have risen between 1981 and 2007 in 45 of the 52 countries studied. Analyzing the results, Ronald Inglehart, a political scientist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, states, “I strongly suspect that there is a strong correlation between peace and happiness.” Zimbabwe, for example, ranks the lowest on the happiness index. Inglehart added, “Ultimately, the most important determinant of happiness is the extent to which people have free choice in how to live their lives.”

Denmark seems to have it all figured out. After a scientific survey of happiness conducted by Leicester University, “60 Minutes” host Morley Safer tries to understand why Denmark is rated the happiest country in the world and has been for 30 years. Professor Kaare Christensen’s of the University of Southern Denmark created a study called “Why Danes Are Smug.” CBS reported, “His answer was it’s because they’re so glum and get happy when things turn out not quite as badly as they expected.”

Christensen described what might happen if Denmark had instead been labeled the 20th happiest country: “I’m pretty sure the Danish television would have said, ‘Well, number 20’s not too bad. You know it’s still in the top 25, that’s not so bad.’” Newspaper columnist Sebastian Dorset added that the country is “almost entirely homogeneous” and “We have very little murders.”
A study release this month by British researchers looked at happiness and personality traits around the United States and found that people display psychological differences according to their region of residence. For instance, the “nicest” states include North Dakota, North Carolina and Georgia, while those who live in New Jersey appear to be more stressed out.

Related Topic: Making work more fun

Alexander Kjerulf, author of the book “Happy Hour is 9 to 5” and of the blog Chief Happiness Officer, ran what he called a completely unscientific happiness survey by asking blog readers what makes them happy in the workplace. He listed several things that make people happy at work based on that survey, including “sincere appreciation,” “random acts of thoughtfulness no matter how minor,” and “good team members to work with, who really care about what we make.”

On FindingDulcinea’s blog, writer Liz Colville lists some of the best Web sites for making work more fun, including sites that help manage to-do lists and sites selling products to decorate your personal office space.

Reference: Report from the National Literacy Trust


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