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Myers Lecture: Teaching Subjective Well-Being Ed Diener Smiley Distinguished Professor of Psychology University of Illinois Meeting: Association for Psychological Science, Chicago, Illinois, May 22-24, 2008. My Gratitude To. Carol and David Myers!. Happiness. Question of the ages:

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Myers Lecture:




Ed Diener

Smiley Distinguished Professor of Psychology

University of Illinois

Meeting: Association for Psychological Science, Chicago, Illinois, May 22-24, 2008

my gratitude to
My Gratitude To

Carol and David Myers!

  • Question of the ages:

What is the good life?

One answer – Happiness

Science is starting to provide answers:

  • What is happiness?
  • Is it good to possess?
  • What cuases it?
exciting important scientific area
Exciting, Important Scientific Area!
  • Possibly the most important thing you can teach students about their lives
  • Involves material from all of psychology – cognitive, bio, clinical, developmental, et cetera
  • Great for class discussions:

There is existing science, but also many unanswered questions

educational levels
Educational Levels
  • High School
  • Undergrad modules
    • 1 to 5 lectures for larger courses -- Intro, social, developmental, cognitive, etc.
  • Focused undergraduate course
    • SWB, adjustment, positive psychology
  • Graduate seminar
ResourcesEd Diener website Diener & R. Biswas-DienerHappiness book 2008

(Sept., 2008)

interesting studies
Interesting Studies!
  • There are lots of fun studies
    • Nun study
    • Colonoscopy & memory


  • There are lots of open research questions
    • E.G., When is happiness beneficial?
major happiness topics
Major Happiness Topics

1. History of the field

2. Defining, measuring, methods

3. Psychological processes

4. National accounts of SWB

5. Benefits of happiness

6. Causes of happiness

flaubert s error
Flaubert’s Error

To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost.

Gustave Flaubert

dalai lama
Dalai Lama



2 benefits of positive swb
2. Benefits of Positive SWB

Social relationships

Work and income

Health & longevity

Societal benefits

  • Causal direction?
    • Longitudinal, lab experiments, quasi-experiments
social benefits
Social Benefits

Happy people more likely to have:

Self-confidence, leadership

More friends

Warmth, sociability

work success
Work Success

A. Higher supervisor ratings

B. Organizational citizenship

Example: Helping others on the job

C. Higher income

example student discussion
Example Student Discussion:

Why might happy people earn more than unhappy people?

health longevity the nun study
Health & Longevity The Nun Study

Dr. Snowdon with Sisters Agnes and Gertrude

longevity the nun study danner snowden friesen u kentucky
Longevity: The Nun Study Danner, Snowden, & Friesen, U Kentucky

1. Nuns autobiographies at age 22

Expression of positive emotions

2. Happy and less happy nuns living in same life circumstances through lifespan

How long do they live?


Longevity inThe Nun Study

Survival Rate at Age:8593

Most Cheerful Quartile 79% 52%

Least Cheerful 54% 18%

Danner, Snowdon, & Friesen


Happy live about 5 years longer

(Sarah Pressman)

societal benefits of happiness
Societal Benefits of Happiness
  • Volunteering
  • Pro-peace attitudes
  • Cooperative attitudes
optimal happiness
Optimal Happiness

(Oishi, Diener, & Lucas, 2007)

Sometimes “8’s” achieve more

Some “negative” emotions are

functional and appropriate

example student discussion24
Example Student Discussion

When is it better not to be too happy? When are negative emotions beneficial?

3 some causes of happiness
3. Some Causes of Happiness?
  • Social relationships
  • Temperament/adaptation
  • Money
  • Society & Culture
  • Positive thinking styles
1 strong social relationships
1. Strong Social Relationships

Every single one of the happiest people we studied have good social relationships

inborn temperament
Inborn Temperament
  • Identical twins reared apart are much more similar in happiness than fraternal twins reared together
  • Heritability – 20 to 50 percent of individual differences in happiness
example student discussion34
Example Student Discussion

When can you change your level of happiness? When is inborn temperament dominant?

but caveats about money
But Caveats About Money!
  • Declining marginal utility
  • Toxicity of materialism
example student discussion37
Example Student Discussion

How much money is enough for happiness?

Can you have too much?

4 society influences our happiness
4. Society Influences our Happiness!

The individual bias in individualistic societies – happiness is within you only

life evaluation ladder
Denmark 8.0

Switzerland 7.5

Canada 7.4

United States 7.2

Togo 3.2

Sierra Leone 3.6

Zimbabwe 3.8

West Bank 4.7

Life Evaluation Ladder
5 cognition positive mental outlook
5. Cognition:Positive Mental Outlook
  • The habit of seeing the glass


  • Seeing opportunities, not


  • Generally trusting and liking

oneself and others

cognition aim model
Cognition: AIM Model
  • Attention
  • Interpretation
  • Memory
basic cognition aim model
Basic Cognition: AIM Model
  • Attention
    • Gorilla basketball study (Simon)
  • Interpretation
    • “They saw a game”
  • Memory
    • Remembering vacation (Wirtz)
    • Remembering partner (Oishi)
positive cognition aim model
Positive Cognition: AIM Model
  • Attention
    • Seeing the positive & beauty
  • Interpretation
    • Not putting a negative spin on

too many things

  • Memory
    • Savoring rather than ruminating
example student discussion46
Example Student Discussion

When is happiness caused by your outlook and when is it due to what is objectively happening to you? When is each important?

student exercise
Student Exercise

Complete the Positive and Negative Thinking Scales (appendix), and score and discuss

Discussion: When and why is positive thinking beneficial?

conclusion true wealth psychological wealth
Conclusion: True Wealth-- Psychological Wealth
  • Material sufficiency
  • Values, meaning and purpose
  • Loving social relationships
  • Spirituality
  • Physical & mental health
  • Happiness and life satisfaction
  • You and your students can have a lot of fun with this topic!
  • It can help students live a better life!
  • You can review many psychological concepts to understand well-being
appendix resources
Appendix: Resources

Ancillary Materials

potential textbooks
Potential “Textbooks”
  • Diener and Biswas-Diener: Happiness– Unlocking the mysteries of psychological wealth
  • Sonja Lyubomirsky: The how of happiness
  • Tal Ben-Shahar: The question of happiness
  • Daniel Gilbert: Stumbling on happiness
  • David Myers: The pursuit of happiness
  • Richard Eckersley: Well & good
  • Michael Argyle: The psychology of happiness
general scholarly sources
General Scholarly Sources
  • Kahneman, Diener, & Schwarz

Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology

  • Strack, Argyle, & Schwarz

Subjective well-being

  • Eid & Larsen

The science of subjective well-being

  • Snyder & Lopez

Handbook of positive psychology

some names for swb research searches
Ruut Veenhoven

Daniel Gilbert

Daniel Kahneman

Robert Emmons

Shige Oishi

Ron Inglehart

Eunkuk Suh

Richard Lucas

Ulrich Schimmack

Laura King

Frank Fujita

Robert Biswas-Diener

Sonja Lyubomirsky

Norman Bradburn

David Myers

Bruno Frey

Some Names for SWB Research Searches
  • Ruut Veenhoven: World Database of Happiness

  • Positive Organization Scholarship– University of Michigan

Sonja Lyubomirsky website

  • Martin Seligman website

examples of fun studies
Examples of Fun Studies!
  • The nun study (happiness and longevity)
  • Dunn et al. (buying for others better than buying for oneself)
  • Vohs et al. (priming money effects)
  • Biswas-Diener (slums of Calcutta)
  • Studies of lottery winners
  • Studies using physiological measures of SWB
  • Jeanne Tsai (what emotions are best)
  • Biswas-Diener (Maasai, Amish, Inuit)
1 history topics
1. History Topics
  • Greek philosophers
  • Thinkers and religious leaders
  • Utilitarians
  • Early research – personality; sociology
  • 1980-2000
  • Current research
history references
History References
  • Diener & Kesebir, In pursuit of happiness: Empirical answers to philosophical questions, Perspectives on Psychological Science (2008)
  • Ruut Veenhoven (1984) Conditions of happiness
  • Wladyslaw Tatarkiewicz, Analysis of happiness
  • Darrin McMahon, A history of happiness
benefitsof happiness resources
Benefitsof Happiness, Resources
  • Lyubomirsky, Diener, & King (2005)
  • Oishi, Diener, & Lucas (2007)
  • Pressman & Cohen (2005)
  • Diener and Biswas-Diener (2008)

Happiness: Unlocking the mysteries of psychological wealth

causes references
Causes References
  • Diener, E. Psychological Bulletin 1984
  • Diener et al., Psychological Bulletin, 1999
  • Seligman, Authentic Happiness
  • Bruni & Porta, Handbook on the economics of happiness
  • Richard Layard, Happiness: Lessons from a new science
  • Veenhoven, Conditions of happiness
  • Furnham & Argyle, The psychology of money
  • Frey & Stutzer, Happiness and economics: How the eonomy and institutions affect human well-being
  • Frey & Stutzer, Economics and psychology: A promising new cross-disciplinary field
processes references
Processes References
  • Alan Parducci (1995) Happiness, pleasure, and judgment
    • Range-frequency theory
  • Robert Emmons & McCullough (2004) The psychology of gratitude
  • David Lykken (1999) Happiness: What studies on twins show us about nature, nurture, and the happiness set point
  • Diener, Lucas, & Scollon (2006)
    • Adaptation; limits of “hedonic treadmill”
defining measuring methods
Defining, Measuring, Methods
  • Defining
    • Evaluations of one’s life
    • Types:
      • Positive affect
      • Life satisfaction
      • Domain satisfactions
      • Low negative affect
      • Meaning, purpose, trust, optimism?
defining measuring methods63
Defining, Measuring, Methods
  • Measurement methods
    • Self-report
      • Validity & reliability
    • Informant report
    • Experience sampling
    • Biological
    • Facial, vocal, expression
    • Coding verbal material

Sandvik, Seidlitz & Diener, 1993

defining measuring methods64
Defining, Measuring, Methods
  • Methods
    • Cross-sectional surveys
    • Longitudinal surveys (panels)
    • Natural experiments & quasi-experiments
      • Lottery studies
      • Negative income tax
      • Disasters
    • Lab experiments
      • E.g., moods and emotions
national accounts of well being references
National Accounts of Well-being -- References
  • Diener & Seligman (2004)

Beyond money: Toward an economy of well-being, Psych Science in the Public Interest

  • Diener, Lucas, Schimmack, & Helliwell (2009) Accounts of well-being for policy
  • Diener – Guidelines
  • Diener – American Psychologist
Diener Broad Theory and Review Articles on Well-Being
  • Diener, E. (1984). Subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 95, 542-575.
  • Diener, E., Lucas, R., & Scollon, C. N. (2006). Beyond the hedonic treadmill: Revising the adaptation theory of well-being. American Psychologist, 61, 305-314.
  • Diener, E., Sandvik, E., & Pavot, W. (1991). Happiness is the frequency, not the intensity, of positive versus negative affect. In F. Strack, M. Argyle, & N. Schwarz (Eds.), Subjective well-being: An interdisciplinary perspective (pp. 119-139). New York: Pergamon.
  • Diener, E., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Beyond money: Toward an economy of well-being. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 5, 1-31.
  • Diener, E., Suh, E. M., Lucas, R. E., & Smith, H. L. (1999). Subjective well-being: Three decades of progress. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 276-302.
  • Diener, E., & Tov, W. (in press). Culture and subjective well-being. In S. Kitayama & D. Cohen (Eds.), Handbook of cultural psychology. New York: Guilford.
  • Kahneman, D., Diener, E., & Schwarz, N. (Eds.). (1999). Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology. New York: Sage.
  • Larsen, R. J., & Diener, E. (1987). Affect intensity as an individual difference characteristic: A review. Journal of Research in Personality, 21, 1-39.
  • Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131,803-855.
  • Pavot, W., & Diener, E. (1993). Review of the Satisfaction with Life Scale.
  • Psychological Assessment, 5, 164-172.
Selected Diener Empirical Articles on Well-Being
  • Biswas-Diener, R., & Diener, E. (2006). The subjective well-being of the homeless, and lessons for happiness. Social Indicators Research, 76, 185-205.
  • Diener, E., & Diener, C. (1996). Most people are happy. Psychological Science, 7, 181-185.
  • Diener, E., & Diener, M. (1995). Cross-cultural correlates of life satisfaction and self-esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68,653-663.
  • Diener, E., & Emmons, R. A. (1985). The independence of positive and negative affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47, 1105-1117.
  • Eid, M., & Diener, E. (2001). Norms for experiencing emotions in different cultures: Inter- and intranational differences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 869-885.
  • Lucas, R. E., Clark, A. E., Georgellis, Y., & Diener, E. (2003). Reexamining adaptation and the set point model of happiness: Reactions to changes in marital status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 527-539.
  • Oishi, S., & Diener, E. (2001). Re-examining the general positivity model of subjective well-being: The discrepancy between specific and global domain satisfaction. Journal of Personality, 69, 641-666.
  • Sandvik, E., Diener, E., & Seidlitz, L. (1993). Subjective well-being: The convergence and stability of self-report and non-self-report measures. Journal of Personality, 61, 317-342.
  • Schimmack, U., Diener, E., & Oishi, S. (2002). Life-satisfaction is a momentary judgment and a stable personality characteristic: The use of chronically accessible and stable sources. Journal of Personality, 70, 345-384.
  • Wirtz, D., Kruger, J., Scollon, C. N., & Diener, E. (2003). What to do on spring break? The role of predicted, on-line, and remembered experience in future choice. Psychological Science, 14, 520-524.
additional references
Additional References
  • Magen, Z. (1998) Exploring adolescent happiness
  • Frisch, Michael
  • Csikszentmihalyi & Csikszentmihalyi (Eds.)(2006) A life worth living
  • Peterson & Seligman (2004) Character strengths and virtues
  • Dalai Lam & Howard Cutler, 1998, The art of happiness
satisfaction with life scale diener et al
Satisfaction with Life Scale (Diener et al.)

Below are five statements that you may agree or disagree with. Using the 1 - 7 scale below indicate your agreement with each item by placing the appropriate number on the line preceding that item. Please be open and honest in your responding.

7 - Strongly agree

6 - Agree

5 - Slightly agree

4 - Neither agree nor disagree

3 - Slightly disagree

2 - Disagree

1 - Strongly disagree

_____ In most ways my life is close to my ideal.

_____ The conditions of my life are excellent.

_____ I am satisfied with my life.

_____ So far I have gotten the important things I want in life

_____ If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing.

measuring your aim
Measuring your AIM

Negative Thinking

_____ I quickly notice the mistakes made by others

_____ I often see the faults in other people

_____ I see my community as a place full of problems

_____ When I think of myself, I think of many shortcomings

_____ When somebody does something for me, I usually wonder if they have an ulterior motive

_____ When good things happen, I wonder if they will soon turn sour

_____ When good things happen, I wonder if they might have been even better

_____ When I see others prosper, it makes me feel bad about myself

_____ I frequently compare myself to others

_____ I think frequently about opportunities that I missed

_____ I regret many things from my past

_____ When I think of the past, for some reason bad things stand out

_____ When something bad happens, I ruminate on it for a long time

_____ Most people will take advantage of you if you give them the slightest chance

Positive Thinking

_____ I see much beauty around me

_____ I see the good in most people

_____ I believe in the good qualities of other people

_____ I think of myself as a person with many strengths

_____ When something bad happens, I often see a “silver lining,” something good in the bad event

_____ I sometimes think about how fortunate I have been in life

_____ When I think of the past, the happy times are most salient to me

_____ I savor memories of pleasant past times

_____ When I see others prosper, even strangers, I am happy for them

_____ I notice the little good things others do

_____ I know the world has problems, but it seems like a wonderful place anyway

_____ I see many opportunities in the world

_____ I am optimistic about the future

          Ed Diener is the Joseph R. Smiley Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois. He received his doctorate at the University of Washington in 1974, and has been a faculty member at the University of Illinois for the past 34 years. Dr. Diener was the president of both the International Society of Quality of Life Studies and the Society of Personality and Social Psychology. Currently he is the president of the International Positive Psychology Association. Diener was the editor of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, as well as the editor of Journal of Happiness Studies. He is the founding editor of Perspectives on Psychological Science. Diener has over 240 publications, with about 190 being in the area of the psychology of well-being.         Dr. Diener is a fellow of five professional societies. Professor Diener is listed as one of the most highly cited psychologists by the Institute of Scientific Information, with over 12,000 citations to his credit. He won the Distinguished Researcher Award from the International Society of Quality of Life Studies, the first Gallup Academic Leadership Award, and the Jack Block Award for Personality Psychology. Dr. Diener won several teaching awards, including the Oakley-Kundee Award for Undergraduate Teaching at the University of Illinois. With over 50 publications he is the most published author in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.           Professor Diener's research focuses on the measurement of well-being; temperament and personality influences on well-being; theories of well-being; income and well-being; and cultural influences on well-being. He has edited three recent books on subjective well-being, and a 2005 book on multi-method measurement in psychology. Diener just completed writing a popular book on happiness with his son, Robert Biswas-Diener (Happiness: Unlocking the mysteries of psychological wealth), and is authoring a book on policy uses of accounts of well-being with Richard Lucas, Ulrich Schimmack, and John Helliwell.
  • There is an unmoving set-point for happiness
  • People over time adapt to everything
  • Money is not a significant correlate of happiness
  • A person’s happiness is 50 % genetic
  • Lottery winners are not happy
  • Those with spinal cord injuries have the same average life satisfaction levels as others
  • Happiness is all within the person


  • Culture and levels of SWB
  • Culture and causes of well-being
    • Self-esteem
  • Culture and what is well-being
    • Pride
spirituality experiencing broadening positive emotions
“Spirituality”: Experiencing Broadening Positive Emotions

– which make life larger than just our own self-interests:





why happy are healthier
Why happy are healthier?
  • Stronger immune systems
  • Better cardiovascular health
  • Health behaviors (e.g., seatbelts)
  • Fewer lifestyle diseases (e.g.


  • Younger genes (telomeres)
national accounts of swb
National Accounts of SWB

Measuring well-being for policy

Information beyond wealth

robert kennedy 1968
Robert Kennedy, 1968

Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross Nation Product . . . counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts the destruction of the redwoods. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

cultural influences levels of happiness pleasant emotions enjoyment etc
Cultural Influences Levels of HappinessPleasant Emotions—Enjoyment etc.


Honduras Pakistan

Panama Bangladesh

Costa Rica Palestine

Puerto Rico Tajikistan