Motivation and emotion/Book/2011/Change and happiness

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Change and happiness:
What attitudes and beliefs do happy people have about dealing with change?
This page is part of the Motivation and emotion book. See also: Guidelines.


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The way others see us, as being happy is the expression we give with our faces, our smile, our eyes tell someone wether we are happy, sad, or angry, Slessor, Miles, Bull, & Phillips, (2010) explain that the movement behind expressing a smile is The contraction of the zygomatic major muscles lifts the corners of the mouth obliquely upward into the typical shape of a smile on the face. Ekman, Davidson, & Friesen, (1990) express however unlike non-enjoyment smiles, enjoyment smiles also involve the contraction of the orbicularis oculi muscles, which change our eye region and makes the eyes narrow and the wrinkles appear around our eyes, he has also mentioned that our eye brows are lowered when we seem happy or smiling genuinely. These features help us to judge whether the person is genuinely smiling because of happiness or whether it is a deliberately posed smile, or a spontaneously expressed enjoyment smile (Slessor, ‘‘et. al’’, 2010). According to Lyubomirsky, (2001) happiness is the experience of joy, contentment or the positive well-being of a person joined with a sense that their lives have meaning and are worthwhile.

This chapter will cover, the happiness in different perspectives, such as why some individuals are happier than others followed by appropriate different theories including objective determinant theory and happiness in adolescents followed by recognizing happiness through different age. Sex difference in happiness will be briefly covered and that will be closely followed by Freud’s id ego and super ego which make up the structural theory of happiness. It will also include how seeking happiness will lead to unhappiness.

Why are some people happier than others?

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To find out whether some people are happier then others Lyubonmirsky (2001) conducted a study and to seperat happy and unhappy people he made his participants responde to a four-item Subjective Happiness Scale, two of these items ask the participants to characterize themselves using both an absolute rating and a rating relative to others (Lyubonmirsky, 2001). The remaining two items offer the participants a brief report of happy and unhappy individuals and ask the participants which description they related more to, and then, responses were combined and averaged to provide a single continuous composite score between one and seven (Lyubonmirsky, 2001). Those who scored below the median were classified as unhappy and those who scored above were considered to be happy in this study (Lyubonmirsky, 2001).

Self-rated happy individuals are far less sensitive to social comparison information especially when it comes to unfavourable information than are those that are unhappy (Lyubonmirsky, 2001). Research conducted by Lyubonmirsky, (2001) found that those that are unhappy are deflated instead of delighted about their peers’ successes and triumphs and are relieved instead of being disappointed or sympathetic in the face of their colleagues failures and humiliations.

Lyubomirsky & Tucker, (1998) has found that happy and unhappy people differ in the ways of responding to life events and daily situations, small and large, such as happy and unhappy people interpret and remember and experience hypothetical life events as well as real life events in a way that serves to highlight their individual emotional nature (Lyubomirsky &Tucker, 1998). This was shown in one of the experiments as students that chose other students as very happy individuals, they too reported experiencing similar types of positive and negative life events as well as those that were nominated by others as unhappy students (Lyubomirsky &Tucker, 1998). Those that were chosen as happy student tended to recall and think about both types of events more favourably and adaptively several weeks later, such as by drawing humour improving their value from difficulty or by emphasizing recent improvement in their lives (Lyubomirsky &Tucker, 1998). In another study by Lyubomirsky &Tucker, (1998) participants interacted with a female in the laboratory, they then watched a series of vedios showing a stranger in three different situations, thoes that were considered happy liked the person they met and recalled her in more positive terms, unlike the unhappy ones that recalled the person they met in unfavourable ways.

Research evidence show that happy individuals are relatively better prepared to manage with life stress, downturns and uplifts, they seem less concerned with external pleasure unlike their unhappy peers (Lyubomirsky & Ross, 1999). Unhappy individuals are more likely to dwell on negative events such as difficult decisions or unfavourable social comparisons they tend to keep dwelling about themselves, their outcomes, and moods (Lyubomirsky & Ross, 1999). So happy individuals and unhappy individuals have different turmoil in their lives, those who tend to have a strong marriage, a steady income and overall not so much trauma in their lives tend to live a happier life, and tend to think about situations in a more positive way. Whereas individuals that tend to see things as negative, suffer from going through difficult situations in life and dwell on negative thoughts.


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Objective determinants is the extent to which well-being is associated with our environment both enforced (an example of this is our native culture) and relatively controllable (such as income and marriage life), as well as non-controllable things such as our age or gender. The focus of objective determinants of happiness is in the western culture. Objective determinants is also known as the bottom-up tradition, it expresses that happy people are simply those with the most advantages such as a steady income, healthy, a supportive marriage and a lack of misfortune or disturbance in their lives (Argyle, 1999). Lyubomirsky, (2001) Has found that happy individuals interpret naturally occurring life events as well as situations conducted in the laboratory, in ways that seem to preserve and even promote their happiness and positive self-views, whereas the unhappy persons interpreted experiences in ways that was seen to reinforce their unhappiness and negative self-views. Lyubomirsky, (2001) research shows that there was supporting evidence to show that top down perspective on well-being that happy people experienced and react to events and situations in very positive and more adaptive ways.

Happiness in adolescence

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Manolis, Milich, and Harris (1993) studied with participants in late childhood–early adolescence (ages 8–12) showed that gender had influence on impression formation, individuals tended to favoured same gender children then the opposite gender for example girls favoure girls and found that the same gender children were more interesting than the opposite gender children. Chaplin, Bastos, & Lowrey, (2010) discovered that relationship between mood such as happy and sad and individuals judgments of others, for example they found that happy adolescents formed more positive impressions of others than did sad adolescents who tended to form negative impressions of others. Chaplin, et. al, (2010) studies have shown that when individual adolecents are happy, they tend to perceive that good events happen more frequently, they tend to interpret others behaviours more positively when the individual is in a good mood. According to Chaplin, et. al, (2010) happier adolescents will have a larger social network, and have interactions with more individuals from diverse backgrounds which allows them to develop a more distinct view of others, these interactions allow them to appreciate the distinction of any given social role, this allows them to appreciate more variations within the same social role.

When it comes to adolescents happiness it mostly depends on their social groups, whether they have friends or not, whether they have a supportive family and background, and whether they are able to adapt to change (Chaplin, et. al, (2010). Chaplin, et. al, (2010) study consisted of 45 participants and he discovered that happy adolescents were less likely to form their stereotypes based on what people have, these adolescents used fewer words to describe a quiet kid than those that were considered to be unhappy adolescents.

Participants responses were broad, some adolescents that were considered happy described quiet kids in very positive words whereas the unhappy adolescents tended to be more broad with their answers when it came to describing quiet kids, unhappy ones used words such as “they can be mean, nice poor or rich” whereas happier ones used words such as “fun to be with, happy cool to hang around” for quiet kids Chaplin, et. al, (2010). The difference is that happier adolescents tend to be more open minded and does not dwell on their past or feel sorry for themselves they support others and tend to see everything in positive ways than those that are considered unhappy adolescents who tend to think negatively in almost every situation that comes their way Chaplin, et. al, (2010).

Happier adolescents were found to be less focussed on superficial cues such as what a person has and what they do not have, their impression of others where positive and their focused less on material possessions may indicate that adolescents that are happier may also be less materialistic then those that are considered to be unhappy adolescents Chaplin, et. al, (2010).

Recognising happiness through different ages

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Younger adults are sensitive to differences in emotional meaning between deliberately posed non-enjoyment smiles and spontaneously expressed enjoyment smiles, categorizing more of the latter as reflecting genuine feelings of happiness when judging static images, video displays, and real-life interactions (Slessor, et al., 2010). Studies conducted by Slessor, et al., (2010) look at age differences in the ability to detect the underlying emotional state of others by openly discriminating between enjoyment and non-enjoyment smiles, people of various age groups were shown pictures of individuals displaying genuine enjoyment smiles, non-enjoyment smiles and neutral expressions, participants were then asked to openly discuss and identify the underlying emotional state of the photographed individual such as is the person feeling happy or is it a fake smile. The task at hand reveal age differences in happiness and perception because this task involves sensitivity to subtle differences in the emotional meanings of smiles rather than simply discriminating smiles from other facial expressions such as anger, fear, and sadness. Williams et, al., (2006) argues that older adults have more difficulty recognising negative emotional expressions rather than positive emotional expressions. These older adults may detect positive emotion, thinking that all individuals that are smiling individuals are experiencing happiness Slessor, et al., (2010). It could be considered that older adults misinterpret labels not happy as meaning unhappy, although older adults failed to categorize individuals with neutral expressions as happy. This shows that the older adults did not immediately respond to say an individual was happy without examining the photograph first Slessor, et al., (2010). So therefore it is believed that results shown by Slessor, et al., (2010) may reflect an age-related positivity bias towards thinking that those who are smiling are genuinely feeling happy even when their smiles are not genuine and true emotion is absent, yet older adults are very unlikely to spot the difference between the two.

Sex difference in happiness

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In a cross cultural study conducted by Michalos (1987) which surveyed people in 23 different countries and up to 6,000 participants, the survey revealed that women reported being happy or even happier than men. However other surveys have revealed that women are less happier than men and some surveys find no difference, however to explain that women are unhappier than men, is that women who are having emotional distress in their lives are still likely to report that they are happy due to societal norms Fujita, Diener, & Sandvik, (1991). In general women are more affectively intense than men which allows them to experience both more joy and more sorrow Fujita, Diener, & Sandvik, (1991). In Fujita, et. al,(1991) study, positive intensity, negative intensity, and global happiness were measured in four different ways to find which gender group is more happier than the other. In Fujita, et. al, (1991) study they divide participants by gender to measure hedonic levels and affect intensity using the four measurement procedures mentioned above.

The results from Fujita, et. al, (1991) study which was undertaken in the United States, found to support the idea that women experience more emotions then men, women tend to differ from men in positive and negative emotions. They also discovered in their study that those who experience strong negative emotions that person is more likely to experience strong positive emotion which can be concluded as those who report negative emotions can also be the ones that are likely to be happier than other at times when they feel happy (Fujita, et. al, 1991). In the study women scored higher on almost all the intensity measures, however they did not differ from men on the hedonic level measures (Fujita, et. al, 1991). If the findings were combined together there is a high probability that women experience more negative affect than men (Fujita, Diener, & Sandvik, 1991). However if the researcher was to balance positive affect against the negative affect, then the gender differences would equal to zero and cancel each other out although women score higher on the negative affects they still scored the same as men in the global happiness (Fujita, et. al, 1991).

Adaptation of change

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Lucas, R. E. (2007), suggests that dominant models of subjective wellbeing after experiencing major life events, such as divorce, death of a loved one, disability, and unemployment, people unavoidably adapt to their natural self and personality factors, and teir genetically determined happiness. Fredrick & Loewenstein, (1999), believed that the adaptation process certainly serves important functions in life and when it comes to major life events (Lucas, 2007). These processes protect people from psychological and physiological concerns of extensive emotional harm (Lucas, 2007). Adaptation processes lets the unchanging stimuli fade into the attentional background, these processes makes sure that change in the environment receives more attention, also attention goes to environmental change which is advantageous because threats that have lasted for long periods of time are more likely to be less dangerous then new threats (Lucas, 2007). Similar to this rewards that have persisted are less likely to disappear quicker than new rewards, it will often be very valuable to attend and react more strongly to new rewards than old (Lucas, 2007). Lastly by reducing emotional reactions over time, emotional adaptation processes lets people disengage from their goals that do not have a huge chance of succeeding, there for this can be beneficial, and there for adaptation to life circumstances occur (Lucas, 2007).

Life Satisfaction after a Major Life event

The structural theory of happiness

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The structural theory of happiness is based on Freud’s id, ego, and superego, the id is the foundation of motivation which is the basic instincts, drives and emotional responses individuals have which functions on a unconsciousness level their conscious representatives are impulses, feelings and fantasies, the ego is in control of the information , it is responsible for first acquiring information about both internal and external environments, these are through perceptions which can be either conscious or unconscious, secondly this is responsible for storing information in memories which can also be conscious or unconscious and thirdly processing what it has learnt and stored, through associations, that can be known as thinking which also can be either conscious or unconscious Goldwater, (2010). The superego is a particular part of the ego which is devoted to rules procedures that help us to function in our everyday lives so that we do not have to decide what would be best for our survival Goldwater, (2010). Part of these rules are inborn, while other parts are derived from information individuals ego acquiers and processes, some of these rules and norms are other peoples that we have simply just copied so we can benefit from all of the wisdom that come from other family members and outsiders that we simply adapt to so we don’t have to learn everything for ourselves Goldwater, (2010). Our desire and impulse is controlled by our id thinking about our decisions is our ego at work so we know how to best deal with the situation facing us, we then are derived from rules and routine which is our superego which tries to make sense to us but not always Goldwater, (2010).

Goldwater, (2010) suggest that the stuctual theory of happiness revolves around the id, ego and superego of the mind. Joy is resulted by the satisfaction of the needs of id, feelings such as excitement, enjoyment, pleasure, and fun. However a lot of people can have enjoyment in their lives however can still remain unhappy Goldwater, (2010). The ego is security and the confidence that individuals have and the information that we need to survive day to day life, feelings that individuals suffer from lack of security are anxiety, and depression, thoes that feel more anxious or depressed and feel lack of confidence are usually not happy individuals Goldwater, (2010). However anxiety is helpful and useful as signals to our body like most feelings, however too much anxiety is incompatible with happiness Goldwater, (2010). The superego is our self-esteem, it is the feeling that we are functioning to our liking we are living to our standards and rules and norms as individual Goldwater, (2010).

Does seeking happiness lead to happiness?

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Valuing happiness leads to positive outcomes in life because it is assumed that the more someone values happiness the happier the person is likely to be (Mauss, Tamir, Anderson, & Savino, 2011). Studies conducted by Mauss, ‘‘et. al’’, (2011) had taken to account value of happiness, life stress and happiness and well-being, someone that value higher grades in their academic studies is going to be much disappointed at times when they fall short of the high standard. However it is still possible to achieve high grads while one is disappointed (Mauss, ‘‘et. al’’, 2011). People are likely to feel sad or unhappy if they find that their best friend was in a car accident, however in relativity positive situations, they tend to have every reason to be happy and are likely to feel disappointed if they do not. According to Mauss, ‘‘et. al’’, (2011), people who value their happiness may feel disappointed if they are not feeling happy at their own birthday party, so Mauss, ‘‘et. al’’, (2011) expresses that the more people that value happiness, the less likely that the individual may obtain happiness, especially when happiness is near reachable.

Study conducted by Mauss, ‘‘et. al’’, (2011) concluded that participants who were told to try make themselves as happy as possible while listening to a hedonically ambiguous piece of music reported feeling less positive mood unlike those who were not instructed anything. Results showed that valuing happiness not completely linked with one being happier, in certain conditions the study examined the opposite was shown such as under conditions of low life stress, people tended to value happiness a lot more, the lower were their hedonic balance, and life satisfaction and the higher symptoms of depression (Mauss, ‘‘et. al’’, 2011).

This study has associations between valuables or effects of well-being for example being sad or unhappy might lead one to value happiness to a greater extent (Mauss, ‘‘et. al’’, 2011). However it is extremely difficult to express why feeling unhappy would lead individuals to value happiness only when they experience low levels of life stress (Mauss, ‘‘et. al’’, 2011). Second study conducted by the same author Mauss, ‘‘et. al’’, (2011) demonstrates that valuing happiness can lead one to less happiness in life, which was found by using both an explicit and an implicit measure of emotion, these results were consistent throughout the study, the idea of valuing happiness leads to less happiness by setting individuals for disappointment. In the study valuing happiness on emotional responses were mediated alone by the participants disappointed about their feelings (Mauss, ‘‘et. al’’, 2011).


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Hopefully you have a better understanding of what happiness is classified to be and what factors can change our happiness, and lack of joy, this chapter covered, the happiness in different perspectives, such as why some individuals are happier than others followed by appropriate different theories and happiness in adolescents followed by recognizing happiness through different age. Sex difference in happiness was also covered and that was followed by Freud’s id ego and super ego which make up the structural theory of happiness. It also included how seeking happiness will lead to unhappiness. This addressed why as we go to age we think that a smile is a genuine emotion of joy. Hopefully it has taught you why some people are happier than others and why this occurs and how.

See also

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Argyle, M. (1999). Causes and correlates of happiness. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, & N. Schwarz (Eds.), Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology (pp. 353-373). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Brockmann, H., & Delhey, J. (2010). Introduction: The dynamics of happiness and the dynamics of happiness research. Social Indicators Research, 97(1), 1-5.

Chaplin, L., Bastos, W., & Lowrey, T. M. (2010). Beyond brands: Happy adolescents see the good in people. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5(5), 342-354.

Ekman, P., Davidson, R. J., & Friesen, W. V. (1990). The Duchenne smile: Emotional expression and brain physiology II. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 342–353.

Ekman, P., (1972). Universals and Cultual differences in facial expressions of emotion. In J. Cole (Ed.), Nebrask symposium on motivation, 1971 (pp.207-283). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Frederick, S., & Loewenstein, G. (1999). Hedonic adaptation. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, & N. Schwarz (Eds.), Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology (pp. 302–329). New York: Sage.

Fujita, F., Diener, E., & Sandvik, E. (1991). Gender differences in negative affect and well-being: The case for emotional intensity. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 61(3), 427-434.

Goldwater, E. (2010). Happiness: A structural theory. Modern Psychoanalysis, 35(2), 147-163.

Lucas, R. E. (2007). Adaptation and the set-point model of subjective well-being: Does happiness change after major life events?. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16(2), 75-79.

Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing Happiness: The Architecture of Sustainable Change. Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 111-131.

Lyubomirsky, S. (2001). Why are some people happier than others? The role of cognitive and motivational processes in well-being. American Psychologist, 56(3).

Lyubomirsky, S., & Ross, L, (1999). Changes in attractiveness of elected, rejected, and precluded alternatives: A comparison of happy and unhappy individuals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 988-1007.

Lyubomirsky, S., & Tucker, K. L. (1998). Implications of individual differences in subjective happiness for perceiving, interpreting, and thinking about life events. Motivation and Emotion, 22, 155—186.

Mauss, I. B., Tamir, M., Anderson, C. L., & Savino, N. S. (2011). Can seeking happiness make people unhappy? Paradoxical effects of valuing happiness. Emotion, 11(4), 807-815.

McAninch, C.B., Manolis, M.B., Milich, R., & Harris, M.J. (1993). Impression formation in children: Influence of gender and expectancy. Child Development, 64, 1492–1506.

Michalos, A. C. (1987). Final progress report on global report on student well-being: Applications of multiple discrepancies theory. Guelph, Ontario: University of Guelph.

Slessor, G., Miles, L. K., Bull, R., & Phillips, L. H. (2010). Age-related changes in detecting happiness: Discriminating between enjoyment and non-enjoyment smiles. Psychology and Aging, 25(1), 246-250.

Rothbaum, F., Morling, B., & Rusk, N. (2009). How goals and beliefs lead people into and out of depression. Review of General Psychology, 13(4), 302-314.

Williams, L. M., Brown, K. J., Palmer, D., Liddell, B. J., Kemp, A. H.,Olivieri, G., . . . & Gordon, E. (2006). The mellow years? Neural basis of improving emotional stability over age. Journal of Neuroscience, 26, 6422–6430.

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