Pursuit of Happiness

Pursuit of Happiness

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by David G., PhD Myers PhD
     
 

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Social psychologist David G. Myers has reviewed thousands of recent scientific studies conducted worldwide in search of the key to happiness. With wit and wisdom, he explodes some of the popular myths on the subject and presents specific techniques for finding true joy in living:

  • Are most people happy?
  • What are the inner traits of happy people

Overview

Social psychologist David G. Myers has reviewed thousands of recent scientific studies conducted worldwide in search of the key to happiness. With wit and wisdom, he explodes some of the popular myths on the subject and presents specific techniques for finding true joy in living:

  • Are most people happy?
  • What are the inner traits of happy people?
  • Are extroverts happier than introverts?
  • Are men happier than women?
  • Does religious faith promote inner peace and joy?
  • Does well-being come with being well-off?
  • Are happy children more likely to become happy adults?
  • What part do friends play in personal happiness?
  • Is age a factor in feeling happy?
  • What can you do to improve your own sense of well-being?
    and much more

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780380715220
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
06/28/1993
Series:
Avon Book Series
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
637,837
Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.75(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Chapter One

What Is Well-being?

If one thinks that one is happy,
that is enough to be happy.

Mme De La Fayette, Letter To Gilles Ménage

We social scientists can count crimes. We can measure memories. We can assess intelligence. But how do we gauge happiness? Can we trust what people tell us? Oh, for a happiness thermometer.

If we considered well-being a thing — if it meant being well off, being successful, being healthy — we could measure that thing. However, like Madame de La Fayette, social scientists view well-being as a state of mind. Well-being, sometimes called "subjective well-being" to emphasize the point, is a pervasive sense that life is good. Well-being outlasts yesterday's moment of elation, today's buoyant mood, and tomorrow's hard time; it is an ongoing perception that this time of one's life, or even life as a whole, is fulfilling, meaningful, and pleasant. It is what some people experience as joy — not an ephemeral euphoria, but 2 deep and abiding sense that, despite the day's woes, all is, or will be, well. Even when the surface waters chum, the deep currents run sure.

To probe people's sense of well-being, researchers have asked them to report their feelings of happiness or unhappiness along with their thoughts about how satisfying their lives are. Like tangerines and oranges, happiness and life satisfaction are subtly different yet share much in common. People who feel happy also tend to think their lives are satisfying.

Sometimes researchers probe with asimple, single question. Imagine yourself one of the tens of thousands of Americans approached bysurvey research teams from the University of Michigan and the Univer-sity of Chicago and asked: "Taking all things together, how would yousay things are these days — would you say you are very happy, prettyhappy, or not too happy?"

And "How satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days? Are you very satisfied? satisfied? not very satisfied? not at all satisfied?"

Sometimes researchers probe with multi-item measures. For example, Chicago researcher Norman Bradburn wanted to assess people's positive and negative feelings separately. Imagine being asked about your positive emotions:

During the past few weeks have you ever felt...

particularly excited or interested in something?
proud because someone complimented you on something you did?
pleased about having accomplished something?
on top of the world?
that things were going your way?

And about your negative emotions:

During the past few weeks have you ever felt...

so restless that you couldn't sit long in a chair?
very lonely or remote from other people? bored?
depressed or very unhappy?
upset because someone criticized you?

How many of the positive emotions have you been experiencing? How many of the negative emotions?

Alternatively, psychologists might define your happiness by summing your moment-to-moment positive feelings then subtracting your moment-to-moment negative feelings, or by computing the ratio of your positive to negative feelings. Bradburn's questions provide a quick self-estimate of what we would find.

How Happy Are People?

We are "not born for happiness," wrote Samuel Johnson, anticipating in 1776 a predominant opinion today. In his 1930 book, The Conquest of Happiness, philosopher Bertrand Russell echoed that most people are unhappy, and recent warmhearted books for the would-be-happy, mostly written by people who spend their days counseling the unhappy, concur. Dennis Wholey (author of Are You Happy?) reports that experts be interviewed believe that perhaps 20 percent of Americans are happy. "I'm surprised!" responded psychologist Archibald Hart in his 15 Principles for Achieving Happiness. "I would have thought the proportion was much lower!" In Happiness Is an Inside Job, Father John Powell agrees: "One-third of all Americans wake up depressed every day. Professionals estimate that only 10 to 15 percent of Americans think of themselves as truly happy." Even my esteemed fellow research psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, has written that " genuinely happy individuals are few and far between." And psychiatrist Thomas Szasz speaks for many in surmising, "Happiness is an imaginary condition, formerly attributed by the living to the dead, now usually attributed by adults to children, and by children to adults."

But when asked about their happiness, people across the world paint a much rosier picture. For example, in national surveys a third of Americans say they are very happy. Only one in ten say "not too happy." The remainder — the majority — describe themselves as "pretty happy."

Most people are similarly upbeat about their satisfaction with life. More than 80 percent rate themselves as more satisfied than dissatisfied. Fewer than one in ten rate themselves as more dissatisfied than satisfied. Likewise, some three fourths of people say, yes, they've felt excited, proud, or pleased at some point during the past few weeks; no more than a third say they've felt lonely, bored, or depressed.

To probe people's well-being in yet another way, University of Michigan researchers asked a national sample of Americans to express their feelings nonverbally: "Here are some faces expressing various feelings. Which face comes closest to expressing how you feel about your life as a whole?"

Once again, we see that most people report feeling happy.

In Western Europe, well-being varies by country, from the Netherlands, where more than four in ten people say they arc very happy, to Portugal, where fewer than one in ten say the same. Although Europeans, by and large, report a lower sense of well-being than North Americans, even they typically assess themselves positively. Four in five say they are "fairly" or "very" satisfied with their everyday lives.

Pursuit of Happiness. Copyright © by David Myers Phd. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

David G. Myers, the John Dirk Werkman Professor of Psychology at Michigan's Hope College, is the author of fifteen books, and articles in dozens of periodicals, from Science and Scientific American to The Christian Century and Christianity Today. He serves on the National Marriage Project advisory board. Myers has been married for forty-two years and is the father of three adult children.

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Pursuit of Happiness 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've been a big fan of David Myers for years. His writing style is very entertaining and casual, and perhaps best of all, his writing is based on solid, published research. Mr. Meyers, a psychology professor by trade, has written many books, including a very fascinating one on intuition, but perhaps his most popular one is the academic text "Psychology", now in its 9th edition!

Anyway, this particular book came out in the early 90's (I have a 1992 copy) which means that is was written before then- which means that all the info you read is about the happiness research PRIOR to that. I bring this up, just so that potential buyers know that they aren't reading the lastest and greatest happiness research.

Now while it might sound like a negative thing, it isn't necessarily. This is one of the few books that disucusses happiness research and does so in layman's term. Thus, the reader is getting a good overview of the early happiness research. While many new findings have energed since the publication of this book, such as in the areas of gratitude and goals, much of the information you'll be reading is still true to this day.

A few specifics about the book. It's actually about an inch thick, with a good quarter inch of that being the extensive bibliography in the back- so a lot of the book in your hands is actually reference data. This may turn a lot of people off, but I rather liked it because it just shows how well-researched the book is (and that's an understatement).

The content of the book? Well, its pretty comprehensive and complete. The author. always the scientist and researcher, covers absolutely every major area of happiness, such as wealth, the demographics of happiness, love and marriage, and so on. Everyone but the most well-read happiness researcher will probably learn something new.

One last thing you need to know. The book doesn't actually show you how to become happier. Therefore, readers looking for a book that will show them actual strategies on how to become happier should look elsewhere. As the author points out, the book was written more to inform than to prescribe or advise. But, if it's a good overview of the earlier happiness research you want to read about, this is your book. Happy trails!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago