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Resilience, Satisfaction and Happiness

June 2012 - Some of us never get over the pain of losing of a loved one while for most people adverse emotional situations associated with anxiety and depression fade with time. But there is another group who actually gain strength and grow personally from meeting adversity.

254 students from the Faculty of Psychology at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) were tested on different questionnaires to gauge levels of satisfaction with life and probe connections between resilience and capacity for emotional recovery. The latter quality is a component of emotional intelligence - the ability to control a person's own emotions and those of others.

The results showed that students who were more resilient (about a fifth) were more satisfied with life and also believed they had control over their emotions and state of mind. Resilience seems to be correlated positively with satisfaction with an individual's life.

Dr Joaquín T Limonero, professor of the UAB Research Group on Stress and Health at UAB who coordinated the research said:

"Some of the characteristics of being resilient can be worked on and improved, such as self-esteem and being able to regulate one's emotions. Learning these techniques can offer people the resources needed to help them adapt and improve their quality of life."

The study was published in Behavioral Psychology and also included UAB researcher Jordi Fernández Castro; professors of the Gimbernat School of Nursing (a UAB-affiliated centre) Joaquín Tomás-Sábado and Amor Aradilla Herrera; and psychologist and researcher of Egarsat, M. José Gómez-Romero.

Be Happy - But Not Too Happy

A study by researchers from the Universities of Cambridge and Southern California published in the Journal of Happiness Studies in 2008 found that although women start life happier than men, they experience more difficulty in achieving their goals and end up less happy as a result.

Anke Plagnol and Richard Easterlin's study is said to be the first to use nationally representative long-term data to examine the role of lack of fulfilment in a person's sense of well-being. Researchers explain that expectations of success may vary between generations and demographic characteristics alter over time. Controlling for relevant factors such as race and education, they found that women are, on average, happier than men in early adulthood but after the age of 48 the position is reversed especially in relation to family and finances.

Anke Plagnol said:

"Men come closer to fulfilling their aspirations, are more satisfied with their family lives and financial situations, and are the happier of the two."

The study found that 90 per cent of men and women aspire to a happy marriage.

Anke Plagnol commented:

"Differences between men and women in aspirations for marriage and children are fairly small. Gender differences in satisfaction depend largely on attainment."

Researchers found that the least happy period of the average man's life was his twenties when he was most likely to be single. Young men are also more dissatisfied with their financial situations, not because they are worse off, but because they want more. Those in a relationship also tend to be in a stronger financial position than those who must depend solely on their own resources.

After the age of 34, men are more likely to be married than women, and the happiness gap widens with age, mirroring men's growing satisfaction with family life. Men also become more satisfied with their financial situations over time, as reflected in their increased spending power. Researchers found that men tend to covet expensive items that might not be affordable until later in life, such as a car or vacation home. However, women want more "nice clothes" than men. These findings are consistent with an earlier study by Richard Easterlin showing that recent generations are less satisfied than previous generations, despite having more.

Anke Plagnol said:

"Of course, one doesn't have to be married to be happy, but if that's something you really want - and it is for most people - then the failure to attain it can have an impact on your overall happiness."

Some age milestones:

  • 41: Age at which men's financial satisfaction exceeds women's financial satisfaction
  • 48: Age at which men's overall happiness exceeds women's overall happiness
  • 64: Age at which men's satisfaction with family life exceeds women's satisfaction

A study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science in 2007/8 argued that the pursuit of happiness can be taken to extremes and that moderate levels may be preferable to elation. Researchers from the University of Virginia, the University of Illinois and Michigan State University analyzed data from the World Values Survey of economic, social, political and religious influences and studied the behaviors and attitudes of 193 Illinois undergraduate students.

Researchers explain that many indicators of success and well-being (such as relationships, employment, health and longevity) are correlated with greater happiness with some studies suggesting that it is causal rather than consequent. However, their findings challenge the common assumption that all positive measures increase along with happiness. Individuals classifying themselves as most happy (10 on a 10-point life satisfaction scale) were in some respects worse off than those scoring slightly less.

Ed Diener, professor of psychology at Illinois said:

"Happy people are more likely (than unhappy people) to get married, are more likely to stay married, are more likely to think their marriage is good. They're more likely to volunteer. They're more likely to be rated highly by their supervisor and they're more likely to make more money."

"But there is a caveat, and that is to say: 'Do you then have to be happier and happier? How happy is happy enough?"

Researchers hypothesised that mildly happy people (classifying themselves as 8 and 9 on a 10-point scale) may be more successful in some respects than those who consider themselves at the top of the scale. Profoundly happy people may be less inclined to alter their behavior or adjust to external changes even when flexibility would be advantageous. Data from the World Values Survey supported that prediction.

The authors said:

"The highest levels of income, education and political participation were reported not by the most satisfied individuals (10 on the 10-point scale) but by moderately satisfied individuals (8 or 9 on the 10-point scale)."

The study found that the most satisfied individuals earned significantly less, had lower educational achievements and were less politically engaged than the moderately satisfied. However the most satisfied individuals were more successful socially, engaging more often as volunteers and maintaining more stable relationships.

The study of 193 undergraduates revealed a similar pattern. Students were categorized as unhappy, slightly happy, moderately happy, happy or very happy. Success in categories related to academic performance (such as grade-point average, class attendance and conscientiousness) increased as happiness increased, but decreased slightly for individuals classified as very happy. However, the very happy group scored significantly higher on social factors (such as gregariousness, close friendships, self-confidence, energy and time spent dating).

Researchers suggest that happiness may need to be moderated for success in some areas of life, such as income, conscientiousness and career.

Ed Diener commented:

"The people in our study who are the most successful in terms of things like income are mildly happy most of the time."

Previous studies linking health and emotions have found that extremely happy people diagnosed with serious illnesses do not always demonstrate better outcomes. Researchers speculate that this may be because they worry insufficiently about crucial issues affecting survival.

Ed Diener added:

"Happy people tend to be optimistic and this might lead them to take their symptoms too lightly, seek treatment too slowly, or follow their physician's orders in a half-hearted way."

Researchers conclude that happiness is a worthy goal for the unhappy, but the endless pursuit of ever more happiness may be counterproductive.

Ed Diener concluded:

"If you're worried about success in life, don't be a 1, 2, 3 or 4 (on the 10-point scale). If you are unhappy or only slightly happy, you may need to seek help or read those self-help books or do something to make yourself happier. But if you're a 7 or 8, maybe you're happy enough!"

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