The term "quality of life" is commonly used to refer to one's personal experience of happiness, freedom from pain, stress, worry, etc.

In this sense, quality of life is a subjective feeling not absolutely tied to material possessions or objective experiences. One person might be very happy living in a small apartment and not owning a car while another, who owns several luxurious homes and a yacht, might be desperately unhappy.

Surviving is a base premise for any quality of life. Surviving requires a job/livelihood. Prospering goes a step further than this.

Happiness research[edit | edit source]

What really works[edit | edit source]

Martin Seligman and his students examined a number of techniques for being happier. There were three techniques that seemed to work. They refer to them as the "three blessings."

  • Write down three things that went well today and why.
  • Write a gratitude testimonial and delivering it personally; known as the "gratitude visit." 
  • Use your "signature strength" in a new way. Take the signature strength test[1] and use your highest strength in a new way.[2]

Daniel KahnemanW has found the following regarding happiness:[verification needed]

  • People's happiness tends to revert to a mean (i.e., that they become accustomed to new circumstances;good or bad). (This varies between people and is sometimes called the setpoint). However, this is only a tendency - it's possible to be happier than our natural setpoint, and our choices and actions influence this.[3]
  • A small number of things do make a difference in happiness for more than just the short term, such as:
    • Quality of sleep and, to a lesser extent, amount of sleep
    • Meditation (Kahneman used the example of Tibetan monks),[verification needed] though it is unclear to this author if Kahneman's reference was specifically to one particular monk or if it is relevant to the average person who meditates
    • Sex

Other researchers have found that happiness is affected by:

  • Life experiences: You are better off spending your money on a holiday than on a new car or extension to your house[verification needed]
  • Where you live: People who move from the city out to the suburbs, often to own their own homes, on average, become less happy because they are more socially isolated and spend less time with friends[verification needed]

Making better choices[edit | edit source]

Most people think a new car or house will make us happy, but will it? It turns out that humans are bad at predicting happiness and bad at making decisions about what will make them happy. Being aware of this may help us avoid bad decisions, most importantly those which involve us using more resources while making us less happy than other possible choices.

If Daniel Gilbert is right, then you are wrong. That is to say, if Daniel Gilbert is right, then you are wrong to believe that a new car will make you as happy as you imagine and you are wrong to believe that a new kitchen will do the same. You are wrong to think that you will be less happy with a single big setback (a broken wrist, a broken heart) than with a smaller chronic one (a trick knee, a tense marriage). You are wrong to assume that job failure will be crushing. You are wrong to expect that a death in the family will leave you bereft year upon year. You are even wrong to reckon that a cheeseburger you order in a restaurant―this week, next week, a year from now, it doesn't really matter when―will definitely hit the spot. That's because when it comes to predicting exactly how you will feel in the future, you are most likely wrong.

Gilbert states, "What our research shows―not just ours, but Loewenstein's and Kahneman's―is that the real problem is figuring out which of those futures is going to have the high payoff and is really going to make you happy."

Gilbert adds, "You know, the Stones said, 'You can't always get what you want.' I don't think that's the problem. The problem is you can't always know what you want [emphasis the author's]."[4]

Questions/more study needed[edit | edit source]

Relative social status is believed to strongly affect Health,[verification needed] perhaps by affecting a sense of competitiveness and stress levels, factors closely related to happiness (unless people of lower perceived social status just have poorer health care; looking at studies from societies with good public health care may shed light on this possibility.)[expansion needed]

Happiness economics[edit | edit source]

"The belief that high income is associated with good mood is widespread but mostly illusory.... People with above-average income are relatively satisfied with their lives but are barely happier than others in moment-to-moment experience, tend to be more tense, and do not spend more time in particularly enjoyable activities."[5]

The research suggests that higher-income countries do tend to be happier than lower-income ones, but once you have a home, food and clothes, then extra money does not seem to make people much happier.

It seems that the level at which happiness levels off is about £10,000 (or approximately $15,000) a year.[6]

Robert H. Frank, an economics professor at Cornell, suggests that happiness "maxes out" at a certain income level because of the widespread tendency to spend additional wealth on conspicuous consumption such as larger houses and more expensive cars that contribute little to quality of life. Frank suggests increases in income could be better spent on "inconspicuous goods" such as shorter commutes, more vacation, and/or exercise.[7]

How to buy happiness[edit | edit source]

"At TEDxCambridge, Michael Norton shares fascinating research on how money can, indeed buy happiness -- when you don't spend it on yourself. Listen for surprising data on the many ways pro-social spending can benefit you, your work, and (of course) other people."


State of mind[edit | edit source]

"Flow"W may also be associated with well-being and happiness. Flow is a mental state in which people are fully immersed in what they are doing; with an energized focus, full involvement, and success/achievement in the process of the activity. Being so absorbed means a loss of self-consciousness, and it draws attention away from other matters that may be less pleasant. The effectiveness we may experience in flow may give a great sense of satisfaction.

States of mind which work against happiness and quality of life include stress, frustration and anger, all of which can be associated with a fast-paced modern lifestyle and the pursuit of wealth. But these problems are not as new as we sometimes think.

One response to negative states of mind is EpicureanismW or other approaches to Simple living. However, the fact that such approaches have existed for thousands of years without eliminating stressful living, shows that this is a constant human concern that won't be solved by simply rolling back the clock.

Objective measurements[edit | edit source]

Since some correlation between objective consumption and subjective happiness is frequently observed in practice, researchers sometimes use the term quality of life to refer to objective measures, including diet, housing, and health. In this sense it is close to the more objective economic measure Standard of living.

In recent years attempts have been made to measure and compare happiness in useful ways. This has been an important part of Daniel Kahneman's work (mentioned above).

Attempts to measure and compare happiness include:

  • measurement of the level of activity of right and left neocortexesW
  • subjective life satisfactionW

Studies must beware of the "focusing illusion": when asked about certain factors contributing to their happiness, people tend to attribute greater importance to a factor once it has been brought to mind:

"For example, when people were asked to describe their general happiness and then asked how many dates they had in the past month, their answers showed little correlation. But when the order of the questions was reversed for another group, the link between their love lives and general happiness became much greater."[5]

Health and quality of life[edit | edit source]

Health workers also compare patients' quality of life under different circumstances; for example, with one treatment a patient might expect many years of additional life with reduced mobility and high levels of pain, while another treatment might offer a much shorter life expectancy, but with excellent mobility and little pain.

Affirmations and mantras[edit | edit source]

Some researchers have suggested that self-affirmations or mantras (of the type suggested by positive-thinking gurus) make people with low self-esteem feel worse:

"Like overly positive praise, unreasonably positive self-statements, such as 'I accept myself completely,' can provoke contradictory thoughts in individuals with low self-esteem."[8]

By this logic, repeating or reminding yourself of a truth or concept that you believe would be more likely to affect your feelings, thinking, and motivation in the way you want.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire - register (free) to do the test.
  2. Authentic Happiness - Using the new Positive Psychology - from the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, directed by Martin Seligman.
  3. How to Become Happier
  4. The Futile Pursuit of Happiness, Jon Gertner, September 7, 2003
  5. 5.0 5.1 Link between income and happiness is mainly an illusion, News at Princeton, June 29, 2006
  6. The science of happiness, BBC News, 30 April 2006.
  7. How not to buy happiness, Robert H. Frank, Daedalus Vol. 133, Issue 2
  8. Self-help "makes you feel worse", BBC News, 3 July 2009

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

Introductory information[edit | edit source]

Practical resources on being happy[edit | edit source]

Current research[edit | edit source]

  • NEP-HAP a weekly report on new working papers in the area of Economics of Happiness. Archive and subscription link.
  • The science of happiness, BBC News, 30 April 2006. Interesting summary of research, & interesting links. Part 1 of a 6-part series.
  • Participate in research on positive psychology (via the "Happiness Hypothesis" site).
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Aliases Happiness
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Created February 23, 2008 by Writtenonsand
Modified April 30, 2024 by Kathy Nativi
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