Monthly Archives: July 2010

About perspective

July 27, 2010

It’s not about what happens. It’s about perspective. I may not be able to change what takes place, but I can always choose to change my thinking

Three gates

July 26, 2010

What about speaking only after our words have managed to pass through three gates?

At the first gate we ask ourselves: are these words true? If so, we let them pass on; if not, back they go.

At the second gate we ask: are they necessary? If so, we let them pass on; if not, back they go.

At the last gate we ask: are they kind? If so, we speak; if not, back they go.

Being happy right now

July 25, 2010

The truth is, there’s no better time to be happy than right now. If not now, when?

Our life will always be filled with challenges. It’s best to admit this to ourself and decide to be happy anyway. Happiness is the way

Let’s treasure every moment we you have and treasure it more because we shared it with someone special, special enough to spend our time with… and remember that time waits for no one.

So, stop waiting
–until our car or home is paid off
–until we get a new car or home
–until we go back to school
–until we finish school
–until we get married
–until we retire
–until summer
–until spring
–until winter
–until autumn
–until xyz

There is no better time than right now to be happy.

Happiness is a journey, not a destination.

Let’s take the time to live !!!

Power of affirmation

July 24, 2010

Affirmations are more powerful than requests, for they remind you that we already have what we seek.

One’s end is another’s start

This eBook is just the beta version a path we hope you’ll decide to walk together. We briefly mention here some topics which could have complemented this book, we look forward for the many more which will come only if you decide to provide us your feedback and share your happiness story with us. The next version of this eBook will be substantially different, your contribution in terms of content and inputs is vital to make it relevant to your happiness story.

Starting a paradigm shift: degrees of appropriateness
In an analogical world, it was efficient to think digitally. That is, in a world without our current technological know-how, people preferred to reduce accuracy in favour of thinking in terms of right and wrong, discrete values, 0 or 1. In a digital world, it is effective to think analogically. That is, in a world where specialization is wide-spread and processing power easily available, people can improve accuracy and think in terms of degrees of appropriateness, with continuous values. Many debates are floating in the air, including the ones about SWB, where different schools of thought aim to prove they are totally right, and everyone else totally wrong. The paradigm shift is to think inclusively: given one opportunity to analyze, its values may tend towards one direction in a specific context, and towards another direction in another context. By pooling together our experiences and expertise, we can discuss which course of actions are more appropriate, or which outcomes more likely to occur, instead of thinking in terms of right or wrong, 0 or 1.

Being happy is a choice
A recurrent theme in this eBook, and a fact for everyone who is taking happiness seriously: living joyfully is a choice. We can partially control what happens with us, we can totally control what happens within us.

Free-will is a fact, if we are mindful
We are free to act and we can take charge of our lives, as long as we are mindful. If we just act based on reflex and instinct, then we are bounded to “fight or flight” behaviour.

SWB has implications for public policy
Politicians can no longer focus only on monetary indicators when designing and implementing their policies. Subjective well-being is important for voters, often when they are not even fully aware of it. For example, environmental conditions influence voters’ moods: what is the point of a few points increase in GDP, or local business turn-over, if the cost for that is measured in parks being wiped away, with much lower air quality etc? This is not to say monteray indicators are not important, this just means they are not enough and need to be integrated with SWB indicators, like the ones provided by Gallup. Also, with proper research which estimates the savings of SWB policies on the health-bill (for example, “it is estimated that $ XYZ are saved every month thanks to policies which facilitate healthy living”), and improvement in results, of Countries, it becomes easier for policy-makers to take fact-based decisions.

SWB has implications for international relations
Subjective well-being plays leading role in 21st century public diplomacy: would you be greateful to a foreign Country, whose traditions and current infrastructure allows you to improve your health? China and India, with their TCM and Ayurveda, are especially well placed to contribute to the SWB of people around the World, both in terms of incoming tourists who are visiting clinics etc. and foreign citizens who can benefit in their home Country from the expertise of Chinese and Indian expatriates, and their students.

SWB agents, objects, actions can be classified as hot, mild, cool
There are “agents”, “objects” and “actions” facilitating SWB: agents are the providers/producers/facilitators of a given SWB object; an object is the physical substance, or the approach/procedure, of a SWB action; an action is what is required by a person to embrace a SWB object. To make some examples: a meditation instructor, or a pharmaceutical company, are agents; a given approach to meditation, or a pill, are objects; the act of meditating, or taking/being given a pill, are actions. Agents are often subject to public policy; objects, to industry/regulatory agencies standards; actions, to the common sense of the person performing/receiving them.

“Agents”, “objects” and “actions” can be classified based on the different degrees of participation they require from the person who embraces (or is prescribed) them. “Hot” indicates an object which require little participation from the person choosing it; it is usually a silver-bullet solution to address one specific issue, often appropriate in life-threatening situation. Medicines are often “hot” objects. “Cool” indicates an object which require considerably greater participation from the person choosing it; it is usually a holistic solution to address a wide range of aspects, often appropriate when immediate results are not the main goals. Improving one’s eating habits is an example of “cool” object. “Mild” indicates an object, or a bundle of objects, which require average participation from the person choosing it; it usually brings a mix of immediate and long term results.

Being happy together: multilevel happiness
People can be wealthy while other people are starving, unfortunately that occurs quite often. But we cannot be happy in a vacuum, joyful beings who are an island to themselves; as mentioned, happiness is social and contagious. We also find the idea of Multilevel happiness appropriate. When it comes to multilevel marketing, often early the first movers (the ones at the top of the scheme) are the one profiting, while others are just feeding them; multilevel happiness creates joy for all, and sometimes the last to join even benefit from aggregated experiences and happiness of the friends who preceded them. Let’s be agents of happiness!

Being happy together: without dependency
Sometimes, we may think that, by carrying other people on our shoulders, we are going to make their lives better. In reality, we are just contributing to making them dependent on us. There are exception, but in most of the cases, people can usually take them of themselves, and are happier when they do. We should be generous with all, without making them dependent on us. We should help in case of emergency and for long term projects, but making other people dependant on us for their daily living presents dangers: to them, because they no longer feel empowered: to us, because it grows our ego, by making us feeling so important for others.

Lasting happiness
Provisional happiness can be influenced by external short-term events; lasting happiness, is influenced both by objective (genetics and natural predispositions) and subjective (educating our emotions; ensure that, if they crystallize into moods, they are positive ones) personal factors . By knowing better how to develop our subjective factors, and how to maximize our objective factors, we increase our happiness.

Happiness is a way of living
Happiness is the result of what we think and do. Happiness is not a target to aim to, nor a place to reach and blissfully sit there forever. If we are concerned only with happiness, we are going to miss it; if we live our lives in ways appropriate the context, we are happy.

Happiness is like a garden: it comes in different shapes, sizes, colours; it grows on different soils, under different weather conditions; it brings different flowers. What’s common about our garden of happiness is that it needs to be understood and nurtured, cultivated and loved. And there is no such thing as cultivating our small fenced garden in a vacuum: it depends on how other gardens are, which seeds are carried around by bees, etc.

Power of context
We also need to understand strengths and weaknesses are never absolute, and always contextual: a shy person makes an ideal listener, and maybe not the most performing social butterfly. For this reason, shy people may put themselves in the contexts where they can facilitate happiness for them and other people; and also let themselves go in more social situation. Still, happiness is more building in strengths, and not force ourselves in filling what we see as voids.

We can change: Neuroplasticity and Neurogenesis
Science discovered that our brain can be rewired (neuroplasticity). And not only that, new neurons can be generated (neurogenesis). At any age, and in almost every condition. Of course, there are some stages of our lives, and certain conditions, where neuroplasticity and neurogenesis are facilitated more; still, how we think and what we do rewires our brain, and the way our brains are wired influence how we see the world and what we do. We can make this a virtual circle, supporting our growth as individuals and member of society.

Being aware of awareness: consciousness matters
Scientific research made giants steps toward a deeper understanding of consciousness. While we do not all need to be experts in neuroscience, an understanding of its discoveries can facilitate our happiness, making us more aware of how our awareness works .

Evolution explains a lot about our instincts
Why, as individuals, our behaviour may be so unpredictable, but as “crowds” patterns are easy to spot? Because, among other reasons, there was an evolutionary advantage in following the wisdom of the crowd, especially in situations of emergency: if a member of the tribe was suddenly running, chances he/she spotted a potential source of food, or a predator who was ready to attack; and, in a relatively small community, it was easy for peers to know the odd case of a tribe-member who was always running for no reason.

Why is sex so often present in our minds? Because most of the beings with low libido are, well, extincted due to lack of off-springs.

Meme explains a lot about our customs
Meme is a label used to identify units of cultural ideas, symbols or practices; meme are, by their own nature, transmittable from one mind to another. This means that customs which are easily transmissible in a given context, are likely to stick around for long regardless of their degree of truthfulness, sometimes even when they are objectively detrimental to the people implementing them.

The need for more research
Science already made remarkable discoveries in the field of subjective well-being, this justifies investing more resources in research, both longitudinal (across time) and latitudinal (across different demographics).

The need for more wide-spread awareness
Initiatives like the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index are extremely important to spread awareness about SWB, and remind to policy makers the importance of keeping SWB into high consideration. We hope these kind of measurements will become even more prominent.

The need for critical thinking
Subjective well-being requires, among other things, to act accordingly to our interpretation and evaluation of data, information, communications, and argumentation. It requires us to quantify a degree of confidence with which we embrace, or decline, the different options available. Considering the importance, and number of stakeholders, active in SWB, we do need to think critically about what we do; there are several good points made by researchers and thinkers about the pitfalls of a society which, instead of a genuine interest in SWB, develops a superficial “feel good” approach to life. We’ll suggest some of them, in new releases of this book.

About religion, metaphysics, spirituality and ethics
Religions include several aspects, like theology, metaphysics, spirituality, ethics, etc. Many religions deeply differs from each other about theology and metaphysics; even more in the way they label and describe them. Spirituality and ethics can be a subset of a religion, with many similarities across different traditions; or they can be a way we relate with ourselves and all the beings, outside a religious framework.

Religious choices, based on what we believe, are not a subject of this eBook. Spirituality and ethics, based on what we experienced as appropriate in given contexts, will be discussed further in future releases.

About opportunities, challenges, and problems
Everything is as it should be, given the current components of the present context. If we want to change the outcome of the situation, then we need to take action. In the case of opportunities, the upside for us is the most evident. When we see challenges, we are focused on the question marks raised by a situation; still, by taking action, we can overcome them. When we see problems, then the focus is all on the threats; problems cannot be solved with the same mind-set which created them, they demand a brand new approach, otherwise they would not even be problems in the first place.

Happiness to be found East?
Rudyard Kipling’s line from the “The Ballad Of East And West” is mentioned many times: “Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”. Unfortunately, the rest of the quotation is often omitted: “But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!”.

East and West, North and South, they can all meet and share the fruits of their cultures and understanding. It is important to say that, all along the history of the “West”, there were voices who had a more holistic view about life and happiness; also, from the East, there were dual doctrines. That means to look East is not necessary to live joyfully, even if of course the wealth of wisdom developed in the East can facilitate us. There were philosophers, like Epicurus, who hinted to ways of living happily; unfortunately, these voices were not considered supportive to the ruling classes and status-quot, and so were ignored, misrepresented or even repressed.

What’s in an eBook title?
We like to write about our experiences and opinions in this blog. We also hope other people can read them, add their own take and benefit from them. This means the blog need to be found, and search-engines are the way information is found nowadays.

Being found by search-engines means using appropriate keywords in titles, descriptions etc. This bring one challenging question: are these keywords really an appropriate way to describe what we write about? For example, self-development and self-help are popular search terms. They are also contradictions in terms 🙂 Most of us do not really need to strenghten the self, most of us benefit from focusing on real awareness.

To make another example: the word happiness is inflated. It is used a lot, often to identify pleasure and other feelings which aren’t really happiness. Still, people perform happiness-related searches on Google et al, and a fair amount of friends visit us thanks to such searches.

How did we decide to balance these different opportunities, for now? We keep happiness in our posts and tags. We also mention self-development from time to time. And we also add what we believe is appropriate to describe the formula to a happy life: living joyfully. And also living joy fully. Because, based on our personal experiences, happiness is a way of living: acting in appropriate manners (because we really are all on the same boat, and we all deserve respect; and not because we know only because that makes us happy) creates joy, here and now, for all..

Future releases
This eBook is currently in beta version. Future publications will include new releases, and also “plug-ins”: short pamphlets, usually focused on one topic only. If you want to provide suggestions etc. please send them to

This is part of “Happiness Formulas. How to assess our subjective well-being? How to live joyfully in the 21st century?”. This free eBook can be downloaded from
or from the home-page of the Institute of subjective well-being: science of happiness .

Exploring arts-based inquiry is a program at UBC, Facilitators: Susan M. Cox and Darquise Lafrenière with additional guest-experts. Poetry, drama, dance song and a variety of visual arts are emerging as promising avenues for innovation in qualitative research in fields such as education, healthcare and law. Drawing on the expertise of both artists and researchers, this intensive program offers a practical framework for understanding and developing arts-based approaches to inquiry and knowledge dissemination. The summer institute context includes presentation, the exploration of key issues and concepts, and offers participants opportunities for hands-on experimentation, networking and exchange.

Day 1: Exploring the Historical and Theoretical Dimensions of Arts-Based Inquiry/Crafting
Facilitators: Susan M. Cox and Darquise Lafrenière

Morning – Theory and concepts
Increasingly, researchers in a variety of disciplines use arts-based methods of inquiry for generating and interpreting research data and representing research findings.  In this opening session, we will make use of examples from many different fields to explore the history and theory of arts-based modes of inquiry, and compare and contrast the varied contexts in which they are employed.

Afternoon – Experiential activities
We will explore, through a series of short presentations, dialogue and practical exercises, several approaches to the use of poetry as a means of understanding and expression as well as a tool for conducting and representing social research. Using your own or a provided data set, we will also create and display ‘found’ poetry.

Day 2: Considering the Ethical and Social Implications of Arts-Based Inquiry/ Inquiring Through Visual Arts
Facilitators: Susan M. Cox and Darquise Lafrenière
Guest Expert: Vjeko Sager

Morning – Theory and concepts
As is the case with many forms of research, arts-based approaches have significant ethical and social implications for participants, researchers and artists-creators. In this session, we will make use of examples from many different fields to unpack some of the issues commonly encountered in using arts-based methods of inquiry in various settings. A DVD featuring an experimental performance using four different arts-based methods will prompt reflections and discussion about the creative process and the issues it raises.

Afternoon – Experiential activities
During the afternoon, Vjeko Sager, an active artist and accomplished educator, will guide us through a series of approaches to using images, visual art and related techniques for arts-based inquiry. There will be an opportunity to experiment with photographic images, drawing, painting and collage and consider various modes of display.

Day 3: Examining Challenges and Opportunities Emerging from Arts-Based Inquiry/Identifying and Developing Topics of Interest and Seeking Advice on Projects
Facilitators: Susan M. Cox and Darquise Lafrenière

Morning – Theory and concepts
The field of arts-based inquiry has flourished in the last decade.  There are, however, many new challenges and opportunities associated with such rapid growth.  In this session, we will examine some of the most controversial issues (such as assessing the quality of arts-based work and competence of arts-based researchers) as well as some of the pressing concerns related to obtaining funding and support or networking in the area of arts-based research.

Afternoon – Project development
This segment of the workshop will be tailored to your specific needs and interests.  Throughout the first three days of the workshop,  you will be invited to submit any arts-based ideas or topics that you would like to discuss and develop further.  You may want to take the opportunity to seek  advice on an arts-based project you are currently working on or planning to design. Or you may wish to develop specific skills. Time will be allocated to meeting your specific needs.

Day 4: Performing Arts-Based Theatre/Preparing your Arts-Based Inquiry Project
Facilitators: Susan M. Cox and Darquise Lafrenière
Guest Expert: David Beare

Morning – Experiential activities
We will explore with David Beare, a talented performer and educator, theatre as a performative method of inquiry. We will participate in theatre games and hands-on exercises to develop practical skills in transforming our understanding or observations of the world into a dramatic form. Dialogue will allow us to focus on how this works and what the process has to offer researchers in various fields.

Afternoon – Integration of learning
We will use the second portion of the day to work on an arts-based project.  There will be plenty of opportunity to experiment with your own research or other data or to work with data that will be provided for you. The project may involve the creation and display of poetry and visual art and/or a dramatic performance or perhaps a blend of all three.

Day 5:  Presenting your Arts-Based Inquiry Project
Facilitators: Susan M. Cox and Darquise Lafrenière

The final day will centre on sharing and discussing the projects you are engaged in creating. Using whatever forms of presentation or performance you wish, you will present to the group your arts-based project (whether complete or in-progress), and have the opportunity to reflect, with your co-participants, on practical, ethical or theoretical dimensions of the work. The session will conclude with a celebratory lunch.

More information on

UBC is holding a three-days seminar titled “Communicating on the edge: managing emotion, conflict and change”. Seminar shows that responding calmly in highly charged situations requires skills and attitudes that can be learned. Become more proactive about managing emotions, reactions and defensive behaviours during this weekend intensive. Learn to respond calmly and cultivate listening skills as a way to diffuse strong emotions.

Experienced instructors in the fields of emotional intelligence, conflict resolution and motivational interviewing will engage you to think differently about disputes and your reactions to them. Interactive learning and practical tools will support the development of new insight. Learn to deal with resistance and manage the emotional climate in creative and constructive ways.

LC 602 S10A  Thu, Jul 22, 6-9pm, Fri-Sat, Jul 23-24, 10am-4pm; UBC Robson Square. $295+tax


Day 1: Changing the Emotional Climate
Facilitator: Ann Rice

Managing difficult conversations begins with you and your own emotional management. Emotional Intelligence provides a framework to understand how your emotions can make the difference between a calm response and over reaction. Discover the basics of the emotional brain and the impact of emotional hijacking on your intentions, values and responses. Learn the EQ competencies of self-awareness and managing impulses as you prepare to assert yourself more confidently in charged situations.

* Learn about “emotional literacy” and how it helps you to regulate yourself in tricky conversations
* Explore how understanding yourself helps in understanding others
* Listen assertively to move the conversation forward
* Monitor emotional cues to read others and fine tune your responses

Day 2: Dealing Effectively with Conflict
Facilitator: Gary Harper

Improving your ability to respond to conflict is a core competency in building effective workplace teams and stronger relationships. Managing the emotional climate, a theme of the previous session, sets the stage for dealing with defensive behaviour and uncomfortable emotions such as anger or fear. Learn how underlying beliefs and hidden assumptions can fuel conflicts. Develop the awareness and skill practice to be able to calmly probe and not back away from tense interactions. Apply techniques such as breathing, self-talk, assertiveness scripts and empathy to manage your emotional triggers and those you interact with.

Day 3: Changing the Conversation: From Persuasion to Possibility
Facilitator: Cristine Urquhart

In these times of social turmoil and economic upheaval, the topic of change can provoke mixed feelings. Understanding the process of change and how language influences outcomes can support the success of these difficult conversations. A Motivational Interviewing perspective provides an understanding of how motivation and resistance happen in relationship. Learn to identify change talk and shift the momentum of the conversation. Recognize when you are on the wrong side of the conversation, and understand how your approach can either increase resistance or enhance the motivation to change. Use key strategies to strengthen collaboration and practice guiding the conversation toward positive change, whether its peers or staff.

More information on

We are happy to review the Certificate in peer counselling which is hold at University of British Columbia, starting in fall semester. The UBC Certificate in Peer Counselling is designed to enhance self-awareness, establish meaning connections with others and develop basic counselling knowledge and skills. While completion of the certificate will not lead to specific employment opportunities, the program will benefit individuals and professionals who want to develop practical counselling skills without committing to an advanced degree.

Specific academic credentials are not required but participants should be comfortable reading, writing and communicating in English at a third year university level. An informal interview with the LCC Director or other member of the Peer Certificate Selection Committee will also be required.  More information can be found on

UBC Certificate in peer counselling

Fall 2010/Spring 2011 – Program Schedule

Updated June 3, 2010; This schedule is subject to change without notice.

Courses/Seminars Date/Time Facilitators Hours
credit value
Introduction to Counselling Skills Sat, Oct 16
Elisabeth van Assum 6
The Power of Emotional Intelligence Fri, Oct 29
Ann Rice 7
Assertiveness Training Sat, Oct 30
Ann Rice 7
Positive Thinking Revisited Sat, Nov 13
Susan Curtis 6
Mindfulness – Bringing Presence In Fri, Nov 19
Spiritual Connections in Counselling Sat, Nov 20
Understanding Family Systems Fri, Dec 3
Marilee Sigal 6
Counselling Skills Fri-Sat, Dec 10-11
Elisabeth van Assum 12
Introduction to Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Sat, Jan 15
Sally Halliday
Solution Focused Counselling Fri, Jan 28
Alex Abdel-Malek 6
Counselling Skills Sat, Jan 29
Elisabeth van Assum 6
Video Taping session Outside of class hours n/a 1
Diversity Counselling Fri, Feb 11
Vikki Reynolds 6
Conflict Resolution Sat, Feb 12
Gary Harper 6
Strengthening the Self Fri, Feb 25
Alex Abdel-Malek
Motivational Interviewing Sat, Feb 26
Cristine Urquhart 7
Grief and Bereavement Sat, Mar 12
Carolyn Main 6
Counselling Skills Fri-Sat, Mar 25-26
Elisabeth van Assum 12
Video Taping session Outside of class hours n/a
Dealing with People in Crisis Fri, Apr 8
BC Crisis Centre 6
Ethical Issues in Counselling Sat, Apr 9
Alex Abdel-Malek 6
Life Planning Fri-Sat, Apr 29-30
Ann Rice 14
Counselling Skills Fri, May 13
Elisabeth van Assum 6
Elisabeth van Assum 6

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?

8.0 Disclaimer
Scientific research about happiness provides a wealth of information, and facilitates substantially to live a happy life. It makes accessible to all the aggregated experiences of many other human beings, who are daily living their lives in the best way they can. It also provides several valuable inputs to policy makers, not just individuals.

Some important points to consider, in order to make the best out of the positive effects that scientific research has on living joyfully:

– self-fulfilling prophecies: with “exact” sciences like physics, describing a phenomenon doesn’t change it, even if of course it influences the way we look at it. Regardless of what we measure as the value of the gravity law, the speed at which stones fall is not affected. Research about happiness, and what makes people happy, is bounded to influence happiness-reinforcing actions.

– diminishing returns and intentions: what facilitate our happiness today may have lower positive impact in the future, because we get used it; this is especially true with pleasant activities; lasting happiness is about our outlook about the present, not only about what we do. Also, intentions count a lot: sharing time and resources with other people makes us more happy than buying something for ourselves; this is what both our experience and scientific research tells us. Still, just based on this, we would give everything away an expect to become happy for ever, we would be in for disappointment. Sharing facilitates happiness when we feel the importance of sharing, and not when we pursue sharing like a task to egoistically enhance our well-being.

8.1 Defining happiness and subjective well-being

Eudaimonia is a classical Greek word, commonly translated as happiness. Consisting of the word “eu” (“good” or “well being”) and “daimōn” (“spirit”, used by extension one’s fortune), it often refers to human flourishing. It was a central concept in ancient Greek ethics, along with the term “arete” (“virtue”) and phronesis (practical or moral wisdom). Webster dictionary defines happiness as “A) state of well-being and contentment, joy. B) a pleasurable or satisfying experience”.

These definitions show that the different aspects of happiness are given different importance by different people; the meaning of happiness in the ears of the listener. For some, it is an inflated term plastered on self-help books; for others, a way of living achieved by living in harmony with ourselves, events, conditions, people and environment around us.

Subjective well-being is not the same as happiness, even if such terms are often used as synonymous. Subjective well-being, as defined by Ed Diener, covers “a broad category of phenomena that includes people’s emotional responses, domain satisfactions, and global judgements of life satisfaction. Subjective well-being consists of two distinctive components: an affective part (evaluation guided by emotions and feeling), which refers to both the presence of positive affect (PA) and the absence of negative affect (NA), and a cognitive part (information-based appraisal of one’s life, evaluated using expectations and “ideal life” as benchmark). It is commonly abbreviated as SWB.

The usage of the term “subjective well-being”, or even the term “joy”, is much less widespread then the one “happiness”. For this reason, while we use happiness in the title of this eBook because that is what people search for online and it is widely mentioned in the field of positive psychology, a suitable way to rephrase it is, in our opinion, is “living joyfully” (when referred to the ordinary meaning of the word), and to use the already mentioned “subjective well-being” which is the accepted standard when it comes to scientific research.

8.2 Measuring subjective well-being
We have already covered some approaches to measure SWB in the previous seven chapters. There are several ways SWB has been measured, both on a collective and individual basis. Often, countries are ranked by their happiness, and cities by how liveable they are.

This ranks how well nations combine level and differences in happiness, for the period 2000-2009, as reported by Veenhoven, R., World Database of Happiness, Erasmus University Rotterdam (available at: accessed on July 7th, 2010):

Costa Rica

The Economist Intelligent Survey ranks the most liveable cities in the World, the list is available on

8.3 Maximizing subjective well-being

Since social-sciences This is a selection of scientific findings about SWB; as every selection, more could have been add, and we can discover more about it by reading in full the books of the authors mentioned here, and their colleagues.

Mindfulness: as reported by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, study participants who appreciate positive moments of their day, “showed significant increases in happiness and reductions in depression”.

Money aren’t everthing: researchers Tim Kasser and Richard Ryan found that “The more we seek satisfactions in material goods, the less we find them there. The satisfaction has a short half-life—it’s very fleeting.”. Money-seekers also score lower on tests of vitality and self-actualization. These findings are consistent across nations and cultures.

Have Meaningful Goals: this has been a recurrent them along the eBook. “People who strive for something significant, whether it’s learning a new craft or raising moral children, are far happier than those who don’t have strong dreams or aspirations. As humans, we actually require a sense of meaning to thrive.” say Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener. “Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning. Whether at work or at home, the goal is to engage in activities that are both personally significant and enjoyable” according to Tal Ben-Shahar.

Exercising matters: exercising delivers a sense of accomplishment, plus opportunity for interaction with people and environment, releasing endorphins and boosting self-esteem. And, under the supervision of a doctor, it may be very effective in healing depression.

Positive outlook: “Happy people…see possibilities, opportunities, and success. When they think of the future, they are optimistic, and when they review the past, they tend to savor the high points,” say Diener and Biswas-Diener.

8.4 Sustaining subjective well-being
If we pursue a meaningful life, or flow, happiness tend to be sustainable, and even self-reinforcing. But if we are on the hedonic treadmill, running here and there but in reality always being at point zero in terms of living joyfully, then in reality we are just aiming at pleasure (with its hedonic adaptation which results in declining value in how we perceive the same activities other time). And, in this case, variety doesn’t really help us; as Daniel Gilbert (Harvard Professor of Psychology and author of “Stumbling on Happiness”) says: “Research shows that people do tend to seek more variety than they should. We all think we should try a different doughnut every time we go to the shop, but the fact is that people are measurably happier when they have their favourite on every visit – provided the visits are sufficiently separated in time”. As Daniel Gilbert (Harvard Professor of Psychology and author of “Stumbling on Happiness”) says: “The main error, of course, is that we vastly overestimate the hedonic consequences of any event. Neither positive nor negative events hit us as hard or for as long as we anticipate. This “impact bias” has proved quite robust in both field and laboratory settings”. He also adds: “We are often quite poor at predicting what will make us happy in the future for two reasons. First, we have been given a lot of disinformation about happiness by two sources: Genes and culture. Both genes and cultures are self-perpetuating entities that need us to do things for them so that they can survive. Because we are interested in our own happiness and not theirs, both entities fool us into believing that’s what is good for them is also good for us”. Does this mean we should relay only on scientists to know more about our happiness? Surely not, but we also to be aware of the effects gene and meme have on our assumptions about happiness; assumptions and beliefs are formulated when we do not know, let’s live joyfully so we can then evaluate by ourselves what are appropriate ways to act in each situation.

8.5 Subjective well-being and generosity
Elizabeth W. Dunn is assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia, and is well-known for her research in the field of happiness, self knowledge, affective forecasting, implicit social cognition. In the conclusions of her paper titled “Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness”, she wrote “While much research has examined the effect of income on happiness, we suggest that how people spend their money may be at least as important as how much money they earn. Specifically, we hypothesized that spending money on other people may have a more positive impact on happiness than spending money on oneself. Providing converging evidence for this hypothesis, we found that spending more of one’s income on others predicted greater happiness both cross-sectionally (in a nationally representative survey study) and longitudinally (in a field study of windfall spending). Finally, participants who were randomly assigned to spend money on others experienced greater happiness than those assigned to spend money on themselves.

8.5 Subjective well-being and social networks
Human relationships are consistently found to be the most important correlation with human happiness. Happier people tend to have good relations with family and friends, as said by Diener and Biswas-Diener, who also add that “We don’t just need relationships, we need close ones” that involve understanding and caring. Studies, including the one published on the British Medical Journal, reported that happiness in social networks may spread from person to person. Quoting its conclusions: “While there are many determinants of happiness, whether an individual is happy also depends on whether others in the individual’s social network are happy. Happy people tend to be located in the centre of their local social networks and in large clusters of other happy people. The happiness of an individual is associated with the happiness of people up to three degrees removed in the social network. Happiness, in other words, is not merely a function of individual experience or individual choice but is also a property of groups of people. Indeed, changes in individual happiness can ripple through social networks and generate large scale structure in the network, giving rise to clusters of happy and unhappy individuals. These results are even more remarkable considering that happiness requires close physical proximity to spread and that the effect decays over time.

Our results are consistent with previous work on the evolutionary basis of human emotions and with work focusing on the fleeting direct spread of emotions. In addition to their internal and psychological relevance, emotions have a specifically social role: when humans experience emotions, they tend to show them. Like laughter and smiling, the emotion of happiness might serve the evolutionarily adaptive purpose of enhancing social bonds. Human laughter, for example, is believed to have evolved from the“play face” expression seen in other primates in relaxed social situations. Such facial expressions and positive emotions enhance social relations by producing analogous pleasurable feelings in others, by rewarding the efforts of others, and by encouraging ongoing social contact. Given the organization of people (and early hominids) into social groups larger than pairs, such spread in emotions probably served evolutionarily adaptive purposes. There are thus good biological, psychological, and social reasons to suppose that social networks (both in terms of their large scale structure and in terms of the interpersonal ties of which they are composed) would be relevant to human happiness.

Our data do not allow us to identify the actual causal mechanisms of the spread of happiness, but various mechanisms are possible. Happy people might share their good fortune (for example, by being pragmatically helpful or financially generous to others), or change their behaviour towards others (for example, by being nicer or less hostile), or merely exude an emotion that is genuinely contagious (albeit over a longer time frame than previous psychological work has indicated). Psychoneuroimmunological mechanisms are also conceivable, whereby being surrounded by happy individuals has beneficial biological effects.

The spread of happiness seems to reach up to three degrees of separation, just like the spread of obesity and smoking behaviour. Hence, although the person to person effects of these outcomes tend to be quite strong, they decay well before reaching the whole network. In other words, the reach of a particular behaviour or mood cascade is not limitless. We conjecture that this phenomenon is generic. We might yet find that a “three degrees of influence rule” applies to depression, anxiety, loneliness, drinking, eating, exercise, and many other health related activities and emotional states, and that this rule restricts the effective spread of health phenomena to three degrees of separation away from the ego.

Our findings have relevance for public health. To the extent that clinical or policy manoeuvres increase the happiness of one person, they might have cascade effects on others, thereby enhancing the efficacy and cost effectiveness of the intervention. For example, illness is a potential source of unhappiness for patients and also for those individuals surrounding the patient. Providing better care for those who are sick might not only improve their happiness but also the happiness of numerous others, thereby further vindicating the benefits of medical care or health promotion. There is of course a tradition of community approaches to mental health, but this longstanding concern is now being coupled with a burgeoning interest in health and social networks. More generally, conceptions of health and concerns for the well-being of both individuals and populations are increasingly broadening to include diverse “quality of life” attributes, including happiness. Most important from our perspective is the recognition that people are embedded in social networks and that the health and well- being of one person affects the health and well-being of others. This fundamental fact of existence provides a conceptual justification for the speciality of public health. Human happiness is not merely the province of isolated individuals”.

This is chapter Eight of “Happiness Formulas. How to assess our subjective well-being? How to live joyfully in the 21st century?”. This free eBook can be downloaded from
or from the home-page of the Institute of subjective well-being: science of happiness .

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