Experiment of social life and happiness
Using a correlational design the effect of social network, social loss, social support, optimism and meaning in life on happiness was examined. 120 participants (65 females and 55 males aged 18- 38, mean age = 21.72) were recruited informally and all participants completed 5 questionnaires assessing all variables. The study also consisted of an explorative semi- structured interview that highlighted the subjective experience of happiness and which factors are important for the development of life satisfaction. 5 participants were recruited for the interviews according to their highest scores of happiness collected using the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire (Hills and Argyle 2002). Correlational findings suggested that meaning in life and optimism were significant predictors of happiness. Furthermore, results from a multiple regression indicated that meaning in life was the only significant predictor of variance in happiness. Several recurring themes were found throughout the interview data, the most prevalent being ‘social aspects’ and the effect of ‘past experiences’. Implications of findings and suggestions for future research are discussed.
"We all live with the objective of being happy, our lives are all different and yet the same."- Anne Frank
Any behaviour that a person displays seems to always be driven by the same motive, a longing for the feeling of happiness and personal satisfaction. In many cases the pursuit for happiness in everyday life may not be as obvious, for instance going to the cinema, chatting with friends or pursuing a career are all everyday scenarios, but are all motivated by an underlying pursuit for happiness. At times some satisfaction is not achieved, for example, pursuing and undesirable career in, such cases will often drive people to create new ways of gaining satisfaction from other areas in life.
Positive psychology (the study of happiness) is very recent and has not been a eminent topic of discussion in psychology compared to issues such as the study of mental illness, depression and other issues that cause people to be deficient of wellbeing (Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, 2000 in; Snyder and Lopez, 2002). Issues of common interest in psychological research such as anxiety and alcoholism were once bewildering concepts and now can be diagnosed with great precision (Snyder and Lopez, 2002). Psychological research into pathology flourished, and remarkable research developed overtime giving insight into various disorders and treatments (Seligman in; Snyder and Lopez, 2002). Although clinical based psychological research became of great benefit to society, the focus on negative aspects of human nature rather than the positive has created a huge gap in psychological research. This gap has made way for positive psychology which aims to understand the mechanisms behind happiness and other human strengths in order to devise methods of inserting happiness into the lives of those who lack life satisfaction.
People are continually searching for happiness, not all people sense happiness to be a pervasive factor in their lives. Seligman (2002), a leading researcher in the field of positive psychology, highlighted this issue by explaining that people can quickly adapt to new situations, so that once an individual finds happiness at a particular time in life, the level of happiness will gradually fade away due to adaptation. Seligman (2002) also suggests that this continuous need for good things does not create a true sense of happiness; instead it keeps one obsessed with small bursts of momentary happiness. This process is referred to as ‘the hedonic treadmill’ (Seligman, 2002, pp. 49), often people trap themselves on the hedonic treadmill and may feel as though nothing in life provides real enduring happiness. Therefore in order to keep the ‘happiness thermostat’ (Seligman, 2002, pp.47) at a set level, people will continue to search for a lifestyle that provides pervasive happiness.
Research into the different factors that contribute to the increase of subjective happiness has been related to a number of various factors. Happiness has been linked to optimal experience (Sahoo and Sahu, 2009), optimism (Seligman, 1991), social network (Christakis and Fowler, 2008), social support (Seligman, 2002), social loss (Caserta, Lund, Utz and de Vries, 2009), meaning in life (Seligman, 2002), gratitude (Emmons and McCullough, 2003), past experiences (Sotgiu, 2010) and thinking styles (Jung et al, 2007), to name a few. Wallis (2005) summarised some of the key elements that have been discussed widely in positive psychology, these included optimism, meaning in life and also the influence of the social world on happiness. These three issues are the main focal points of this study and will be discussed in relation to happiness.
Very early research by Frankl (1992) emphasised the importance of finding meaning in life. A much more recent approach to the relationship between happiness and meaning in life was suggested by Seligman (2002) highlighting the great influence a meaningful life has on happiness and the way a person thinks of life in general, one begins to picture life in a way that allows them to understand their purpose. Once this is achieved behaviour can be shaped to meet the goals of the purpose. Seligman (2002) suggests developing meaning of life whether based on ‘law, policing, fire fighting, religion, ethics, politics, national service, or charity’ (Seligman 2002, pp. 260), an individual will be able to implement their personal strengths into this ultimate goal. Indeed, the majority of people are continually trying to find meaning in their everyday lives in order to make sense of life itself (Emmons in; Keyes and Haidt, 2003). Seligman (2002) explains that often without meaning in life people are lead on a pursuit of pleasure rather than the pursuit of happiness.
The majority of people will have at least one social network; these are groups of people who are connected by a particular type of relationship such as family members and friends. Intriguing research into the nature of social networks has been able to discuss the particular ways in which happiness spreads through social networks so that people absorb the emotion through one another. Fowler and Christakis (2008) conducted a longitudinal study over 20 years in the dynamic spread of happiness in social networks. They concluded that happiness often flows through social networks and this causes the contagion of positive emotion. People absorb emotional states by mimicking body language and facial expressions that display positive emotion (Papa and Bonanno 2008).
George Herbert Mead (1934) described a social ability that he thought is essential for the development of healthy social relationships. It is the ability of taking on other people’s perspectives, by imagining how people are feeling and thinking, the individual is then able to mould their own behaviour so that one can engage with the other. Another social ability is the way in which people absorb others emotions in order to empathise and feel what others are feeling (Pugh 2001). Being able to view the world through the eyes of another also develops strong support systems within social and also contributes to happiness (Seligman 2002). Low levels of contact with friends and family can often lead to severe consequences such as depression (Flaherty, Gaviria, Black, Altman, & Mitchell, 1983). Seligman (2002) also indicates that social support is essential for ensuring that happiness is kept at its set range and therefore contributes to enduring happiness.
Another issue that has been seen to have an effect on happiness is the extent to which an individual experiences social loss. Social loss refers to the experience of loosing close people within the social network. A common example of social loss is death of family members however people can also be subjected to social loss in everyday life such as peer rejections, divorce and disagreements within the family. Hock and Lutz (2001) conducted an interesting study into social loss; they found peer rejections and parent relationship loss to result in the development of long term depression and also inflicted maternal depression. Hock and Lutz (2001) explain that the lack of significant social figures in the past causes a negative representation of the self and as a result inflicts poor life satisfaction.
Social loss is not always related to unhappiness or negative emotions, there are many studies that suggest social loss does not always cause long term unhappiness. Indeed, recent research into the issue by Caserta et al. 2009 indicated that social loss does inflict negative emotions however positive emotions such as happiness have an important role in undoing these negative emotions that occur in conjunction with social loss. Lund et al. (2009) studied a sample of recently widowed men and women who all emphasised the importance of happiness and humour in their everyday lives to aid the process of grieving. The undoing effects of positive emotions also work for various social loss issues and general hardships in life (Fredrickson, Mancuso, Branigan and Tugade, 2000). An important point to consider is that the influence of social aspects on happiness tends to be dependent on the quality of the connections in the network rather than the size of the network (Cummings, Butler and Kraut, 2002). Therefore without social support, social network will not provide wellbeing and positive emotions (Kroenke, Kubzansky, Schernhammer, Holmes and Kawachi, 2006) and social loss will not extinguish happiness in life permanently, if social support is provided by people in the social network (Lund et al, 2009).
Optimism refers to the particular ways in which people interpret situations, research into optimism tends to find general links with the increase of positive emotions such as happiness (Peterson and Chang in; Keyes and Haidt, 2003). According to Scheier and Carver (1998), it is the level of optimism one has that determines how well situations in life are dealt with, and whether the individual will be able to return to their set level of happiness (Carver and Schier 1998). This does not necessarily mean that one cannot choose to change their level of optimism. According to Carver and Schier in; Snyder and Lopez, 2002), optimists will mould their expectations so that they assume that good things will happen. Pessimists on the other hand will expect situations in life to be a product of negative factors or result in negative outcomes. Being optimistic in psychological terms is described as how one reflects on their future, in other words it is the process of using positive thinking frames to interpret future situations (Seligman 1991).
Seligman’s (2002) approach to optimism is based on the belief that optimism occurs as one of two thinking styles, permanence and pervasiveness. Permanence refers to the extent to which an individual interprets difficulties in life to be permanent. An optimist is more likely to believe that bad situations are temporary and will not last where as a pessimist will think the opposite. Pervasiveness refers to the extent to which an individual allows bad situations to affect all aspects of their life, e.g. an optimist may blame bad exam results on a unfair teacher, where as a pessimist will assume all teachers will act the same in all situations. Furthermore optimists also tend to believe positive situations are enhanced by themselves e.g. ‘I passed because I’m good at maths’, where as a pessimist will relate them to others or external factors e.g. ‘I passed because the test was easy (Seligman 2002).
The issues discussed so far, apart from optimism, influence happiness by providing personal stimulation from external forces such as finding ultimate goals from various situations and interacting within social networks in order to reap the benefits. However these external contributors to happiness do not consider how people perceive different life situations, and the variation of happiness in people as a result of individual differences. This is where personal thinking styles such as optimism play a role, optimism is referred to as personality trait (Lounsbury et al. 2003) and not all individuals have optimistic thinking styles (Seligman 2002), therefore it acts as an internal force to promote happiness but there are ways in which people can learn to adopt positive thinking styles rather than the negative (Seligman, 1991).
The three areas of discussion all seem to have large amounts of research supporting their potential of being related to happiness. The aim of this study is to find out the extent to which the predictors discussed in the introduction will have an effect of happiness. The variables that will be considered for this study include meaning in life, social aspects which will include social network, social support and social support, and finally optimism.
The hypothesis for experiment one is that meaning in life, social network, social support, social loss and optimism will effect that variance in happiness to varying degrees. Furthermore, as this topic is based on the study of subjective happiness and for this reason; explorative semi- structured interviews will also be conducted as this will give insight into exactly what it is that inflicts happiness in people.
Participants were 120 undergraduate students at Goldsmiths College London (65 females and 55 males aged 18- 38, mean age = 21.72, SD= 6.12). An opportunity sample was used to recruit all participants.
Oxford Happiness Questionnaire/ Satisfaction with Life Scale:
Subjective Happiness was measured using the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire (Hills and Argyle 2002), the questionnaire has not been widely used as a measure of happiness, therefore to confirm the validity, scores from the questionnaire form all 120 participants were correlated with the Satisfaction of Life questionnaire (Diener, Emmons, Larsen and Griffin, 1985) that has been widely used in research. A significant correlation emerged (r= .906, N= 120, p < .001). The satisfaction of life scale is made up of 5 items, although it is a validated measure, the 5 items may not be sufficient enough to measure happiness as it is a very broad phenomenon, for this reason the Oxford Happiness questionnaire is more appropriate for the nature of this study, (see appendix B for Satisfaction with Life Scale). The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire is made up of 29 items and includes statements such as ‘I don’t feel particularly pleased with the way I am’, the participants are asked to indicate how strongly they agree or disagree within a scale of 1 to 6. The questionnaire is scored by adding up the numbers for all 29 items that the participants wrote, 12 out of the 29 questions are scored in reverse. The overall score is divided by 29. (See appendix C for Oxford Happiness Questionnaire and appendix H for correlations)
The Meaning in Life Questionnaire (MLQ)
The questionnaire used to measure meaning in life was the Meaning of life questionnaire by Steger, Frazier, Oishi and Kaler, (2006). It is made up of 10 items and includes items such as ‘I understand my life’s meaning’. The participants have to indicate how strongly they agree or disagree according to a scale of 1 to 6. The overall score is calculated by adding up the numbers from all 10 items, questions 1, 4, 5, 6 and 9 are scored in reverse, the total is then divided by 10 to give the meaning in life score. (See appendix A for MLQ)
Revised Life Orientation test (LOT- R)
Optimism was measured using the Revised Life Orientation test (LOT-R) developed by Scheier, Carver and Bridges (1994), the questionnaire is made up of 10 items in total however items 2, 5, 6 and 8 are filler items and are ignored when scoring. Items 3, 7 and 9 are reverse coded prior to scoring. The total for items 1, 3, 4, 7, 9 and 10 provide the final optimism score. When scoring the potential range is between 0 and 24, the higher the number the higher the level of optimism an individual has. (See appendix D for LOT- R)
Norbeck Social Support Questionnaire (NSSQ)
The instrument is used to measure social components of social support the size of social networks and the social support provided by the network. In addition the questionnaire also measures the extent to which the participant has experiences social loss. In order to complete the questionnaire, participants are asked to list the names of individuals that have they have social relationships with especially those that provide social support. The participants have to also identify what kind of relationship they have with each member of the social network they identified for. Finally a 5-point rating scale is used to indicate the amount of support available from each person on their network list, these included items such as ‘How much can you confide in this person?’ Social support is scored by adding up the total scores for questions 1 to 6. Social network is calculated by adding up the number of people listed with the total for question numbers 8 and 7. Social loss is calculating the total for question number 9 and its sub questions L1 to L9. (See Appendix E for NSSQ)
The study was split into two experiments (quantitative and qualitative), the first of which has a correlational design that includes a multiple regression with 5 predictor variables (social network, social loss, social support, meaning in life and optimism), and the criterion variable is happiness. The second part of the experiment had an exploitative qualitative design through means of a semi- structured interview.
Each participant was approached informally and asked if they were happy to take part in a questionnaire study. All the separate questionnaires for meaning, optimism, social network and happiness were administered at the same time as part of one whole questionnaire. Before the participants answered the questions, it was mandatory to receive informed consent; the consent form also stated that there may be a possibility that they would be contacted to take part in a follow up study that involved a one on one interview. Only those that were willing to take part in both sections of the experiment are allowed to continue. Each participant was left alone for approximately 15 to 20 minutes or until they had completed all 5 questionnaires. After completion of the questionnaires all participants were debriefed on the details of the experiment. (See appendix F for interview structure)
The second part of the study involved one on one semi- structured interviews with 5 participants that scored the highest in happiness according to the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire (Hills and Argyle 2002). Each participant was contacted via email and asked to attend an interview that was referred to as a continuation of the questionnaire study. All participants were also given a brief description of what will be discussed in the interview and asked to attend only is they were happy to continue. Informed consent and debrief was obtained previously in the questionnaire study which indicated the possible requirement for interviews. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was used to analyse the responses given by the interviewees. IPA aims to explore individual personal experiences and aims to focus primarily on the subjective interpretations an individual may have of a particular issue. The analysis required the development of themes that recurred in the transcript; themes are identified through a process of re-reading interviewee responses in order to understand all participant subjective thoughts and feelings. (See appendix L for process of clustering themes and appendix M, N for consent form and debrief).
The study consisted of two sets of results, the first of which was statistical analysis of the questionnaire data including the use of a multiple regression which compared happiness to 5 predictor variables (Meaning of Life, Optimism, Social Loss, Social Network and Social Support) also 5 correlations that assessed the relationship between happiness and all 5 variables independently. (See appendix G for raw data)
Table 1. Subjective Happiness Scores Related to Predictor Variables N= 120
Meaning in Life
Multiple regression analysis was employed to ascertain the prediction of overall subjective happiness score from meaning of life score, social (network, support and loss) scores and optimism scores. A significant model emerged: F (5, 114) = 40.843, p < .001. The five predictor model was able to account for 63% of the variance in subjective happiness. Table 1 displays the results obtained for each predictor variable entered into the model.
The significant variable obtained from the model was Meaning in life with a beta value of 0.78 (p <.001). Optimism, Social network, Social support and Social Loss were not significant predictors for participant subjective happiness in this model. (See appendix J for SPSS)
A further 5 correlations were executed in order to find which of the predictor variables are related to happiness and also to indicate which of the variables accounted for the variance observed in the regression. A Pearson’s r test showed a statistically significant correlation between happiness and meaning in life (r= .792, N= 120, p <0.01 (2 tailed). A significant correlation between happiness and optimism also emerged (r= .228. N= 120, p < 0.05 (2 tailed). Social support was not significantly correlated with happiness (r= .164, N= 120, p = .074 (2 tailed), social network was also not significantly correlated with happiness (r= .102, N= 120, p = .268 (2 tailed) and finally social loss was not significantly correlated with happiness (r= .068, N= 120, p = .460 (2 tailed). (See appendix I for SPSS)
The participants selected for interview analysis scored high in all questionnaires that measured happiness, meaning in life, optimism, social network and social support, they also had very low social loss scores. Analysis of the data established several recurring themes that encapsulated the essence of subjective happiness for each interviewee. The recurring themes were gradually reduced to four main themes (Fig 2). The first of which is Social aspects, this theme was constructed from sub categories that include social comparison, social support and social network. The second theme is Experiences on happiness; these experiences include past experiences that shape the way people think about happiness. The third theme is Personality; the subcategories include gratitude and optimism. The final theme is Meaning which includes purpose and achievement as subcategories. The extent to which these factors recurred in interview is displayed in Fig.3.
Fig. 2. The diagram summarises the process of clustering of themes that were developed using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis. The final clustering of themes resulted in the production of four main themes that were related to the sense of subjective happiness (Meaning, Personality, Social Aspects and Experiences).
Social aspects of happiness
Many interviewees referred to various issues relating to their social life as crucial for the existence of general happiness. 5 out of 5 participants all referred to the availability of a strong social network as key for being happy and satisfied with life. Many of them also indicated that the connection between happiness and social aspects to be mostly related to the availability of social support:
JE: my family and even my friends make me happy because they are always there to provide support when I’m down... (Line 21, 22)
SP:...family and friends are really important, I mean most of my happiest times are when I’m doing things with them...if I didn’t have my friends or my family, I don’t think I would be a happy person at all...(Lines, 245- 247) I think it’s mostly the support they give (Line, 249)
In addition to social support, social network was also related to other factors that influenced the level of happiness in interviewees. An interesting finding was the relationship between social networks and social comparison. 3 out of 5 participants suggested that they identified whether they should or should not be satisfied with life by comparing their life with others. If it is similar in some way, the more likely they will be accepting of their own personal situations. This process of finding similarities seems to be very important:
HB: ...being able to interact with people defiantly makes me feel like we are all in this together... (Lines 153- 154)
BM: ...sometimes I achieve my goals and sometimes I don’t, the fact that I can achieve some things and not others does not make me unhappy, it makes me feel normal like everybody else.(Lines 196- 197)
Many of the participants indicated a relation between social comparison and the way individuals interpret achievement. Many of them felt as though achieving what they want or completing goals was essential to the maintenance of subjective happiness. Many of the participants acknowledge that it is not necessarily a negative thing if goals are not achieved. Satisfaction is maintained when goals are not met by comparing achievement to others to asses if they should increase or decrease the level of happiness they feel:
IH: I make sure I don’t worry myself over silly things, try and always let myself know that there’s always someone out there that’s worse off than me…it sounds slightly selfish but I feel good when I’m on the same page as others around me, like if I’m in an exam and the whole year does bad, I don’t feel so bad if I do bad. I just compare myself to others. (Lines 90- 93)
HB: ...I always know that there is someone out there that is in a worse off situations and for that I think I should be happy, there is no reason not to be. (168- 170)
4 out of 5 participants when asked what it was that made them happy individuals suggested the lack of bad past experiences:
JE: ... you can be happy if you want to be … unless you have like real bad life situations that affect you emotionally or something… (Lines 28- 30)
HB: … I was born here, so I guess I haven’t had any major life problems or tragedies that may make me feel unhappy most of the time. (Lines 140- 141)
As discussed in the introduction, personality or the way people think is a huge concept and for this reason positive psychology has focused on a few particular attributes that are related to subjective happiness. When interviewees were asked to state what they think made them happy, 3 out of 5 participants referred to personal characteristics that indicated optimistic styles of thinking.
SP: ...I think in order to be happy you need to have control of life. Sometimes when things go wrong it’s difficult to see the big picture and you get fixated on like the wrong rather than the right... (Lines 249- 251)
JE: ...Well I think it starts off because I have chosen to look at the bright side of life... (Lines 36- 37)
3 out of 5 participants also indicated having a sense of gratitude towards life as crucial for happiness:
HB: ...In a way my parents have taught me to always appreciate life, whatever happens... (Lines 131- 132)
SP: ...I think I appreciate most of the things I have, I haven’t lost anyone close so I’m in a good place. That’s why I think I’m happy... (Lines 163- 164)
2 out of 5 participants mentioned the influence of meaning on their sense of subjective happiness. One of the two participants referred to the achievement of goals and how that provides meaning in life for them:
BM: ...If I don’t graduate this year I would be very upset about it, I think I would lose a lot of confidence and probably feel extremely unhappy because I didn’t achieve one of my main goals but I could probably still go out with friends and have a laugh and feel happy there and then, but there would always be something in my head telling me I’m not on the track I should be… (Lines 201- 205)
Another participant expressed the importance of meaning on subjective happiness in terms of strong religious beliefs.
Int: Do you think without religion, your happiness with life would be affected to a great extent? (Line, 134)
HB: yes it will, I would feel like there is not point to my life at all, I mean I would think everything is pointless, there would be no right or wrong and everyone would be lost… (Lines 135- 136)
It seems that a small number of the interviewees felt as though finding meaning in their lives gave them a sense of purpose; this seemed to make them more satisfied with life in general. However many other participants (3 out of 5) were not concerned with finding meaning or purpose in life and did not find it crucial for the maintenance of happiness in life:
JE: ...and I think my ultimate purpose of my life is to be a good person. But I don’t think purpose has that much of an influence on my happiness. Sometimes it’s very difficult to understand the point of life, like what exactly am I doing here? That doesn’t mean mu happiness would change if I had no idea of what my purpose is. (Lines 45- 47)
Fig.2. The total percentage of how many times each particular theme recurred in all five interviews.
Overall Interview Result
The extent to which the themes had an influence on the interviewee’s responces is illustrated in Fig.2. Overall Experiences, more specifically the effect of past experiences more than the effect of optimal experience recurred aproximatly 31% of the time. An additional strong theme was the social aspects that were discussed by the interviewees ( aprox 31%), these social aspects included the recurrence of all social subcategories subcategories (social support ,the size of the network and social comparision). Meaning and Personality also recurred however not to the same extent, the least recurring theme was Meaning which also occurred aproximatly 13% of the time.
The study consists of two sets of findings; experiment 1 revealed that meaning in life was the only significant predictor of the variance in happiness from social support, social loss, social network and optimism through the use of regression analysis. The hypothesis for experiment one is that the predictor variables will effect that variance in happiness to varying degrees. The hypothesis was supported as the predictor variables were able to account for 63% of the variance, which is considerably high when taking into consideration that only 5 predictor variables were selected from a vast amount of candidate variables that have been linked to happiness. Experiment1 also indicated that the only predictor variables that accounted for the variance in happiness were optimism and meaning in life according to correlational analysis.
Experiment two consisted of a semi structured interview and Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis was used to find recurring themes in the participant’s responses. Participants cited the influence of all the variables that were considered in experiment 1 on subjective sense of happiness, excluding the influence of social loss, as the majority of interviewees indicated that they had no experience of social loss and this may have an influence on their high levels of happiness.
When the results of the semi structured interviews were compared with the scores obtained from the questionnaire for each of the top 5 scoring happy participants, the results were inconsistent. Many of the responses that were given by the participants did not match their personal scores in the questionnaire. For instance all five participants scored high in happiness, meaning in life, optimism, social network and social support in experiment1, however in the interview each participant has a tendency to lean to only one or two of these variables as explanations to why they are happy. The highest recurring theme in the interview were social aspects and experiences, this contradicts the data collected from experiment1 that suggested meaning in life was the strongest predictor of happiness. Many of the themes were interrelated so that two or more would inflict happiness in one individual. Furthermore three recurring issues that were not considered in experiment one were mentioned by the interviewees these included the effect of social comparison, past experiences and gratitude on happiness.
The overall results demonstrated very interesting findings, the correlations have provided indications that the only variables that have a direct relationship to happiness included meaning and optimism but not social aspects (social network, social loss and social support), however social aspects was a strong recurring theme in the interview especially social support. This is in opposition with research by Fowler and Christakis (2008) that suggested social networks allow happiness to spread from person to person automatically. It could be argued that feelings of happiness that one may feel through another are not substantial enough to provide the individual with pervasive happiness and general life satisfaction. This may be the reason why social networks were not discussed to the same extent as social support was in the interview. Furthermore as the correlation implied that it had no relation with happiness, it can be also argued that Fowler and Christakis’s (2009) proposition cannot act as a an official explanation of how happiness works within the network as it is not hugely supported by a wide range of research, it would be appropriate for further research to replicate their findings to confirm the validity of the contagion of happiness in social networks.
Research by Hock and Lutz (2001) into the effect of social loss on happiness was also not supported by experiment 1. A possible explanation as to why the correlation did not identify a relationship between the two variables as people may only loose complete happiness in life if they also lose all connections in their social network, this would in turn eliminate the possibility of social support. This would not allow the possible undoing of negative emotions inflicted by positive emotions (Fredrickson et al. 2000). The likelihood of participants experiencing complete social isolation is highly unlikely and this may be the reason why social loss was not significantly related to happiness in the study.
Social support recurred in all 5 interviews and is also supported extensively by researchers such as Seligman (2002). However social support was not a significant predictor for the variance in happiness as well not correlated significantly with happiness. The quantitative findings on social support contradicted the majority of research that suggests social support being essential for life satisfaction such as research by Flaherty et al. (1983). The reason behind this is uncertain and could be a result of the use of questionnaires as a measuring tool, the use of questionnaires can cause results to lack in validity if participants do not answer to the best of their knowledge, therefore replication of this study would be appropriate to confirm the relationship between happiness and social support.
The study also produced interesting findings on meaning in life, which was the only significant predictor of variance in happiness and was significantly correlated to happiness separately, but the least recurring theme from the interview. Only 2 out of 5 participants mentioned the importance of meaning life in happiness. A proposition to explain this issue could be that meaning in life is often constant so that it and does not increase or decrease across the lifespan e.g. a devout Christian may have an ultimate goal of going to heaven, this will provide a constant goal, therefore when asked what makes them happy, meaning in life may not be as obvious to report as it is so embedded in everyday life. Seligman (2002) mentions how meaning in life leads to the development of ultimate goals in life. It would be appropriate to investigate whether individuals are aware of their personal goals and whether they aware of the meaning in their lives that may not be apparent, this could be considered in future development of this study.
When considering the relationship between the predictor variables and interview responses with happiness, it is crucial to also consider the distinction between enduring and momentary happiness proposed by Seligman (2002). The interviews were able to give more of an insight into this issue; the variables related to enduring happiness included social network, social support, optimism and meaning in life. The interviewees suggested that ability to have optimistic thinking styles promoted happiness as they exist as part of the individuals constant personality type as suggested by Carver and Scheier (1998). Meaning in life also acts in a similar way to optimism, once an individual unearths meaning, ultimate goals are produced and according to Seligman (2002) this facilitates enduring happiness.
According to the interview responses, social aspects accounted for momentary happiness as well as enduring happiness. In terms of enduring happiness it seems that social support plays much more of a role across the lifespan, this supports research by Seligman (2002). Interviewees also discussed the importance of social networks in relation to momentary happiness, socialising with people was suggested to elicit short bursts of happiness, this can be explained by the contagion of positive emotion that occurs within a social network suggested by Fowler and Christakis (2008)
One of the major limitations of this study is the inconsistency between the results from the regression analysis and correlations compared to the interview responses, as discussed earlier social aspects were found to be not related to happiness, where as they were highly related to happiness in the interview. This study has displayed how qualitative research can provide insights into research that is difficult to establish through qualitative methods. For instance, the regression was able to identify the amount of variance that the predictor variables accounted for however the responses from the interviews were detailed enough to show that many of the predictor variables do not act as separate entities and are very much interconnected in terms of the way they affect happiness, for example, a few interviewees indicated the possibility of gaining meaning in life through her social network, this relationship was not considered in the discussion of past research and was only identified through means of qualitative measures.
Another way in which the themes overlapped was cited by a few interviewees who felt as though the achievement of goals was not shaped by meaning as, proposed by Seligman (2002), instead they found happiness by comparing themselves to others and using this as a guide to set personal goals, fulfilment of these goals provided them with happiness. Further development of the study could consider the effect of social comparison on the development of meaningful goals.
Although the use of a semi- structured interview highlighted some of the key findings in this study, the use of qualitative methods is not without its risks. The data obtained can be easily misinterpreted if researchers are not careful about the conclusions they make of participant responses. Using IPA analysis requires the researcher to make sure that they do not personally identify with the issues that are spoken of by the interviewee, this over- identification in the subject matter will result in the researcher having more of an insight into some participant’s views over others, due to the influence of the researchers own life experiences. IPA does attempt to counteract this by requiring the researcher to analyse and re- read the responses so that they are looking at the issue only from the participant’s perspective. Nevertheless it is very difficult to be completely sure of the effect of experimenter bias in qualitative psychological research.
This study, as well as past research upholds the idea of happiness being a result of numerous factors, the interview established additional important aspects, and these included social comparison, past experiences and gratitude, all of which were not considered in experiment1, but were briefly mentioned in the introduction as having possible influences on happiness. In future development of this research social comparison should be considered as a key element under the effect of social aspects on happiness. 3 out of 5 interviewees indicated that comparing themselves with another often helps them identify how happy they should feel about particular situations.
The second adventitious finding that recurred in the interview responses was the effect on gratitude on sense of happiness; this supports findings by Emmons and McCullough (2003) that were briefly mentioned in the introduction. Similarly to the way optimism was discussed in this study, the level of gratitude one may have differs from one person to another, 3 out of 5 interviewees indicated that their personal appreciation of life tends to keep them happy. Jung et al. (2007) suggested that individuals with positive thinking styles tend to have higher life. Future research could consider various thinking styles that occur across people and whether happy people have particular thinking patterns that promote the development of traits such as optimism and gratitude that may have strong links to happiness.
The final factor that was picked up on the basis of interview responses was the effect of past experiences on the set level of happiness. Sotgiu (2010) suggested that happy experiences occur more frequently than traumatic experiences. Therefore it would be interesting to investigate if past positive or negative past experiences predict sense of happiness directly or whether the past experiences effect happiness indirectly through thinking style.
A further future development this study is the investigation of the level of awareness participants actually have of the true nature of their own happiness. 4 out of 5 interviewees were not aware of being as happy as their happiness score suggested. When asked if they were surprised that they were selected for interview on the basis of having a high happiness score, many of them stated that they felt as though they were similar to everybody else. Future research can consider the issue of happiness and awareness, it may be that the force that drives most people to be happy is subconscious and this may explain the why people may under estimate how happy they really are.
Positive psychology has an aim of understanding human strengths the main mission for the study of happiness is to understand how happiness works so that methods can be developed in order to foster it in those who lack happiness in their lives. This study gives an insight into the mechanisms behind happiness, the study suggests that meaning in life has a very important role in predicting happiness; furthermore collecting detailed qualitative data showed the complexity of happiness and how in fact happiness is influenced by a broad range of factors, the drives behind happiness also differ greatly from one person to another. This is due to the subjective nature of happiness; every individual derives happiness in various ways and therefore happiness can be obtained from anything. The study of happiness very complex and this may mean that the mission of finding key factors that influence happiness over all populations would be difficult to extract. In this case, it may be more appropriate to focus on individual levels of happiness, if the understanding of happiness is developed further and promoted to the general public, people will be able to recognise areas in life that make them happy. Therefore helping people indentify out what makes them happy will aid those that have not found happiness in their lives to join the majority of people that have.
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