An abbreviated list of happiness researchers who are held in high regard and seem to have the public's ear, include Daniel Gilbert, Nancy Etcoff, Sonja Lyubomirsky and Martin Seligman. (They may or may not be the best of the best, but they have definitely made top-billing at "happiness summits", TED Talks, Google Talks and the rounds of the literary review pages of the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.)
According to Lyubomirsky's work at her lab at UC Riverside, she and her colleagues/students have found out some interesting things about happiness in both short-term and longitudinal studies. The research shows that 40% of happiness is within our control, while the remaining 50% is determined by genetics, or as it is called, "set points" and 10% by our circumstances. (One might call a "set point" ones average mood.) She also found that 54% of adults in the U.S. are "moderately mentally healthy" but not flourishing. Her lab also cites to the World Health Organization prediction that by 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of mortality in the world. In the U.S. there are more suicides than homicides today. And lastly, the subjective happiness score (through self reporting) changed from scores of 7.5 out of 10 in the 1940's when less than 70% of households had running water, toilets and heat to scores of 7.2 out of 10 today when the average home has two rooms per person, color TVs, DVDs, computers and plenty of plumbing!
Both Nancy Etcoff (Harvard Medical) and Daniel Gilbert (at Harvard) state in their research and lectures that when incomes rise, there is a correlated rise in happiness, until one reaches $50,000. At that point, there is no dramatic difference in one's subjective happiness scores. You don't get happier with more money.
Finally, for the purposes of this introductory blog on the science of happiness, medical doctors, social workers, sociologists and psychologist have been able to show that increased happiness has tremendous effects on sustained good health, recovery from illness, longevity, and economic impacts for individual households and communities.
There is so much good coming out of this new research. For this reason it behooves us to pay attention to the sciences, as much as we do the self-help section. We have at the very least 40% of our subjective happiness created by each of us, no matter what our circumstances. So next Wednesday, we'll look at some of the strategies for increasing happiness according to the research.
* Happiness in the scientific literature is defined in terms of frequent positive affect, high life satisfaction and infrequent negative affect. These three constructs are the three primary components of subjective well-being.