Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Well-being: Is more always better?

In the last few posts, we reviewed research and literature on what can make us happier and can enhance our well-being. However, is more happiness always better? Or is there rather an optimal level of well-being?

Shigehiro Oishi, Ed Diener, and Richard E. Lucas reviewed a large amount of data and came to the conclusion that the optimal level of happiness is to a certain extent determined by what one wants to achieve. The authors found that “that people who experience the highest levels of happiness are the most successful in terms of close relationships and volunteer work, but that those who experience slightly lower levels of happiness are the most successful in terms of income, education, and political participation.”

Why is this? Negative moods are not always bad, positive emotions not always appropriate. For example, anxiety motivates one to work harder in promoting one’s career. Dissatisfaction drives people towards changing their life circumstances. Fear is appropriate in dangerous situations. On the other hand, too much optimism can lead to overconfidence. So in different situations, different emotions are appropriate. Therefore, positive moods are not always better than negative ones, and just as there can be too many negative emotions, there can be too many positive ones as well.

You can find the original article here.

What does this mean? Like in many life domains, there is not “the” optimal level of happiness, and not “the” recipe how to get there. We all have to decide what we want in life, what is important to us. It is best to do what matches our personality. Jumping through hoops in order to become the happiest person on the planet is certainly not the right thing to do. It is better to find out what kind of person one is, and what goals one has.

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