Findings that happiness can change for individuals need not mean that the happiness levels of given societies can change. Perhaps individual-level changes are idiosyncratic, meaning that the relative gains and losses of different individuals within a given nation cancel each other out, resulting in no discernible shifts for a society in the aggregate. Research to date has supported this view--that the average life satisfaction of people in a given nation is fixed--but now this conclusion has been challenged.
The staid meaning of "happy place" seems to be an internal location to which one goes to be happy, serene, and untroubled. Happiness can no doubt be found in an internal place, but that has not stopped people from searching for literal happy places, settings--sometimes neighborhoods and cities but usually nations--where everyone is happy.
A great deal of discussion has ensued about Tim Russert and his untimely death. Why was he so widely admired? And why did he die when he did? Discussion is also ensuing about why the Boston Celtics won the NBA Championship. Did their players have special strengths of character? The more general question is the degree to which positive psychology (or psychology per se) can speak to any singular event that will never be repeated.
"Other people matter." I say that in every positive psychology lecture I give and every positive psychology workshop I conduct. It sounds like a bumper sticker slogan, but it is actually a good summary of what positive psychology research has shown about the good life broadly construed. Let me provide two examples that illustrate that other people matter.
In my previous blog entry ("Does Happiness Have a Cost?"), I discussed some studies showing that experimentally-induced happiness can have a cost. I cautioned that state research is not the same as trait research. But sometimes state research and trait research point to the same conclusion. An important paper by Shigehiro Oishi, Ed Diener, and Richard Lucas, published in 2007 in Perspectives on Psychological Science, showed that dispositional happiness (rendered as life satisfaction) can have costs.
My colleague Ben Dean and I recently conducted an Internet survey of 1464 adults interested in positive psychology that asked what they would most like to know about this new field. A large number wanted compelling case examples of actual people who lived life well.
Character does matter, all would agree, whether it is the character of our nation's leaders or the character of ourselves, our family members, our friends, our colleagues, and our fellow citizens. Election 2008 has seen no shortage of discussion of character and no lack of strong opinions and pronouncements.