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David Myers explores the unexplored question of “who is happy?” He illustrates all the research studies that have been conducted in order to identify what makes people happy. The researches all show a positivity bias amongst the subjects. This means that people shy away from their own depressions. This also depends on the way the question is phrased. For instance, if asked whether people are happy, a large majority would most certainly say yes.
However if they are asked whether they have felt upset or depressed at any point during the past week, the answer may be different. Similarly, people are afraid of appearing too materialistic or of having a negative impression on the interviewer. Therefore, they would most certainly answer the question: “Could money buy happiness?” with a no. However, if you rephrase the question to: “Would a little more money make you a little happier?”, the results might be quite different (Myers, pg. 58).
The challenges that researchers face while exploring such complicated issues as human emotions are numerous. The subjects often respond in ways that will be influenced by their personal biases. Therefore, while questioning, surveyors must make sure that the queries must ask for as much objective information as possible. Abstract questions like “what makes you happy?” must be ruled out.
It is also often difficult for the researchers to accept that there are no demographic influences on the variable in question. The instinct of a researcher is to find demographic patterns in the trend of the variable. However, as the article explains, males and females are equally likely to encounter depression. The old are often much more satisfied with their lives than the young and it is not sensible to label and believe in the existence of such phases as “midlife crisis” and “old age decline”.
According to Wagner (2008), “while correlational studies can suggest that there is a relationship between two variables, they cannot prove that one variable causes a change in another variable.” Therefore, when Myers uses correlation to find a link between two different variables such as happiness and material wealth, he cannot prove that one is an effect of the other. This article, however, suggests that there is indeed a cause-effect relationship between the two variables.
However, we may cease to look at it the other way around: material wealth could be a result of the happiness one feels. When one is happy, one is more creative and more dedicated to one’s work and this might bring material gains. Another theory is that there could be a third variable involved: material wealth may not directly lead to happiness. More money means that people can afford more leisure and that leisure time might bring them happiness. Therefore, just a trend between the changes in two variable is not enough evidence to prove that there is a relationship between them.
We can extend our understanding of happiness through more research questions and posing more objective hypothesis. A possible hypothesis for clarifying our understanding of the relationship between happiness and close relationships could be: “People feel happier in the company of other people that they are alone.”
This hypothesis would explore the question from an objective view. By measuring how many people feel happier in other’s company, we can gain an objective outlook on the case of identifying whether interpersonal relationships are really a cause of happiness or not. We can use surveys to research how people feel in the company of others. Perhaps, one day we would be able to understand such subjective questions with the help of more objective data.
Myers, D. G. (2000). The funds, friends and faith of happy people. American Psychologist, 55(1), 56-67.
Wagner, K. V. (2008). Correlational Studies. Retrieved June 28, 2008, from About.com: Psychology. Web.