Conditions of Happiness, Kluwer Academic, 1984, Dordrecht/Boston.
Abstract Chapter 7
HAPPINESS AND INDIVIDUAL CHARACTERISTICS
Many investigations inspected whether happy people are different from unhappy people.
Various characteristics were considered, some of which indeed appeared more frequently
among the former than among the latter. The abundant findings can be grouped in six main
Happy people appeared relatively well endowed with several characteristics that are
generally helpful in coping with the problems of life.
- Physical health.
Happy people tended to enjoy better health. They felt healthier, were shown to be in
better condition by medical examinations and appeared to live longer. These differences
seem reasonably sound. There is evidence that they stem from both effects of happiness on
health and effects of health on happiness. As for the latter effect, there are indications
that poor health lowers appreciation of life indirectly by hampering economic activity and
social contacts. Probably it also affects happiness directly, in particular hedonic level.
- General mental effectiveness.
Happy people scored lower on mental impairment' inventories than the unhappy and
higher on indicators of 'positive mental health' and 'mental maturity'. The differences
could be somewhat inflated by bias, contamination and spuriousness. They are probably
partly due to effects of happiness on mental effectiveness. Obviously mental effectiveness
can contribute to happiness as well. It increases the chances of creating satisfying
living conditions (good job, involvement in voluntary organizations, close intimate
networks) and it benefits the development of several happiness nurturing personal
characteristics, such as good health, the belief that one is in control of one's lot and
the selection of realistic aspirations
- Specific abilities.
Happy people were better at getting on with other people. They were found to be more
'open', 'warm', 'empathic' and 'tactful' and at the same time more 'influential'. These
differences may be inflated somewhat by contamination and spuriousness. Yet there is
little doubt that a genuine link exists. Not only can happiness sometimes influence the
development of social skills, but it is also obvious that these skills are crucial to the
maintenance of intimate contacts, which appeared crucial for happiness.
Contrary to expectation, happy people were not more intelligent than
the unhappy; at least not in modern western nations, as far as 'test-intelligence' was
concerned. Remember that level of school-education was found unrelated to happiness as
well in several modern nations.
Happy persons appeared to distinguish themselves from the unhappy by a greater
activity level. They were not only more involved in various tasks, but also felt more
energetic. Their greater activity was not paralleled by more complaints about
time-pressure. It has not been established to what extent these differences are
artefactual. However, there is experimental evidence that suggests that they are at least
partly due to the effects of happiness, positive affect enhancing activity and negative
affect slowing it down. Possibly high activity can also add to a greater appreciation of
life, among other things by fostering chances in the realms of work and intimate
relations. As yet there is no independent evidence for such effects.
Richness of mental life
Studies among intellectuals in western nations do not suggest that the happy enjoy
more differentiated affective experiences that the unhappy, nor that they perceive outward
reality more completely or articulately. At best there are indications that happy people
are somewhat more independent in their appraisals. It is not certain that these findings
will stand tests for spuriousness and curvilinearity.
Happiness was also found to be related to some traits that have less evident
consequences for success in coping. Most investigations on this matter were performed in
western nations; more than half concern American students.
- Perceived fate-control.
Happy people appeared more inclined to believe that they can influence their lot than
unhappy ones. Consistent differences of this kind appeared at least in the US. These
differences can be artefactual to some extent. It is also possible that they are partly
due to the effects of happiness on fate-control-beliefs. Yet experimental evidence leaves
no doubt that believing oneself to be in control of one's lot can add to the enjoyment of
- Defensive strategies.
Investigations among students in the US showed happy students to be more inclined to
react to threatening information by 'reversal' and 'intellectualization' and unhappy ones
by 'projection', 'turning against others' and 'turning against self'. The happy and the
unhappy did not differin inclination to defensive 'repression'. Insofar as they are
trustworthy, these findings suggest that self-deceit is not always detrimental to
happiness, but that it depends on how one deceives oneself Yet it is not certain that
reality evasion is really that harmless. Its long term costs may not have manifested
themselves fully among the young people investigated here. Neither is it clear why some
defensive strategies are more frequent among the happy and others among the unhappy.
Possibly it is because reversal' and ntellectualization' are particularly suited to
obscure unpleasant affects, but do not interfere too strongly with the appraisal of
external reality, while 'projection' and 'turning against others' involve a greater loss
of reality command and moreover hamper contacts with other people.
- Tendency to like things or not.
Studies among American students found generally cheerful subjects a little more apt to
react to neutral stimuli with pleasant thoughts. However, they were not more inclined to
like odors. The difference in pleasantness of thought-reactions may mean both that
cheerful students have more pleasant reminiscences and that an inclination to react
positively results in more pleasure in life. As yet it has not been established which
effect prevails. If operand at all, the latter is likely to have a greater impact on
'contentment' than on 'hedonic level'.
Various aspects of time-orientation have been considered in relation to happiness.
e.g. time-extension', the tendency to dwell either in the past, the present or the
future, characteristic ways of 'organizing' one's time, to experienced 'time-pressure' and
perceived 'swiftness' of time. There is little consistency in the findings; probably
because the curvilinear relationships at hand here were not adequately reflected in
correlation-coefficients and because the links are highly variable across situations. Just
yet the findings do not suggest that happiness is favored by a 'broad timespan' nor by a
strong orientation on the 'future' or by a tendency to live in the 'here and-now'.
Contrary to the suggestions of some ascetic moralists, happy people do not distinguish
themselves from the unhappy by living more 'laboriously' or more 'soberly'. They were
shown to have an open eye for pleasures and appeared in fact to be more involved in
various leisure activities; in particular in outdoor entertainments and sports.
No great differences in consumption patterns appeared either; at least
not insofar as eating habits, smoking or drinking are concerned. One investigation among
American students in 1970 found drug users (marijuana, amphetamines, barbiturates) less
'satisfied' with life relatively, but not less 'cheerful'.
Investigations on differences in sleeping habits found no significant differences. These
findings do not imply that lifestyles are entirely irrelevant to happiness. The data cover
only a few lifestyle variables in a few populations and it is not certain that they will
stand up to tests for spuriousness or curvilinearity.
Investigations in various nations showed the aspirations and goals of happy people to
center on matters of 'character', 'family', 'health' and 'pleasure'. Happy people also
appeared relatively concerned about matters of 'value' and solution of 'social problems'.
On the other hand, a relatively great number of unhappy people reached out for 'change';
in particular for improvement of their 'economic situation'. These differences can not yet
be relied upon, as they have not been sufficiently checked. If tenable they may mean that
happy people tend to select other aims than the unhappy. They may also mean that some aims
are more rewarding than others, e.g. because they are better 'attainable', or correspond
more closely with 'real needs'. Apart from the desire for 'change' it is largely unclear
what effects are actually involved in these differences.
Some investigations in western nations inspected whether happy people hold different
convictions than unhappy ones. The few differences they found were mostly small and
variable across time and social categories.
There are indications that happy people take a relatively great interest in moral
issues and that they are relatively apt to feel that their values are shared by others.
However, these differences did not appear in all populations studied.
There are equally inconsistent indications that happy people grant priority to other value
principles than unhappy ones. Happy American students appeared to lay more emphasis on
'pleasure' and 'social virtues', while their unhappy colleagues stressed 'rationality',
'independence' and 'self control'.The greater emphasis on 'hedonic values' by the happy
students was confirmed in some investigations among different populations, but emphasis on
'social values' was not. Similarly, happiness appeared related to adherence to the
'Protestant Ethic' among skilled workers in the US, but not among students. The case of
hedonic values excepted, these findings are again hard to account for.
Investigations in the Netherlands and the US showed that happy people were typically more
religious than unhappy people in the 1940's. In the decades that followed this difference
withered, however. Insofar as it still exists, the differences are currently greatest
among women, elderly persons and the less well educated. There is no certainty that the
difference is not spurious. Neither is it clear to what extent the difference is due to
the affects of (un)happiness on religious involvement. Probably the original difference
reflected some positive effects of religiousness; possibly a softening of existential
problems, and perhaps also attendant benefits in the realm of economic support and
intimate contacts. These effects are likely to have withered when churches lost ground in
In contemporary western nations there are no differences in happiness between members of
different churches. However, in Nigeria in 1960 Muslims appeared happier than Christians
and Christians happier than Pagans. None of these findings have been sufficiently tested
for spuriousness as yet.
- Conventionality of outlook.
Some stray findings suggest that happy people tend to feel more attracted by the political
right and the center than by the political left. There are also indications that happy
students in the 1960's were somewhat more conservative in matters of sexuality than
unhappy ones. However, investigations in the 1970's did not show happy college educated
women to hold more feministic sex-role attitudes. The findings have not yet been
sufficiently tested. If they should stand checks, the slight differences could mean either
that happiness fosters conservatism or that conservative standards characteristically
allow a more positive evaluation of life as it is.
- Views on happiness.
Happy and unhappy people were found to differ in some convictions about happiness itself.
Happy Americans appeared to attribute happiness to different causes than unhappy people
did. These differences parallel with the above mentioned findings on differences in
longings between happy and unhappy persons.
Happy Americans were also shown to be more apt to approve of happiness and pleasure
morally. This may be due to a tendency on the part of happy people to praise themselves.
It may also mean that happiness facilitates the development of a lust-acceptant outlook.
Still another possibility is that moral approval of pleasure adds to the enjoyment of
life. It could do so directly by not burdening the individual with notions of sin and by
allowing full awareness of pleasurable experiences. It could also work indirectly by
preventing people to disregard internal hedonic signals and thereby harming themselves in
the long run.
While happiness is the appreciation of life-as-a-whole, it is obviously related to the
appreciation of various aspects of life. However, it is not equally strongly related to
all of them. In Western nations at least, happiness appeared most closely linked to
'satisfaction with intimate relations', to 'satisfaction with income' and to 'satisfaction
with oneself'. It was generally somewhat less closely linked to 'satisfaction with
leisure', to 'satisfaction with health'. Smallest of all appeared its links to
'satisfaction with one's living environment' and 'satisfaction with one's country'. This
hierarchy is not wholly identical in all social categories. In the Netherlands it has
changed through time; 'satisfaction with marriage' having become an increasingly prominent
predictor of happiness during the post-war decades. As yet it is not fully clear why
happiness is not equally closely linked to satisfaction with all aspects of life.