How can you study happiness?

Happiness researchers consider at least two types of happiness worth distinguishing. The first is life satisfaction: a subjective assessment of one’s life in general. On this definition, being happy means that you are mostly pleased with your life1. The second type is subjective wellbeing: how people feel from day to day and in what proportion they experience positive and negative feelings. Both types of happiness are mainly measured through self-assessment2. The connection between the two measurements is fairly strong but they are far from equivalent. Therefore more and more scientists prefer to examine the two types separately34.

Though self assessments aren’t a perfect measure, many studies show them to be reliable. Research shows a close correlation between the results of individuals’ self-assessment and assessments provided by their family and friends5. Self-reported happiness levels have also been shown to correlate with physiological responses associated with happiness – for example people who see themselves as happy show higher activity in the left part of the prefrontal cortex and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisone67. The variables from the research that are important to self reporting unhappiness have also proven to be connected with the variables that cohere with an increased risk for suicide8.

  • 1. Brülde B. Lycka & lidande – Begrepp, metod och förklaring. Lund: Studentlitteratur. 2007
  • 2. Brülde B. Lycka & lidande – Begrepp, metod och förklaring. Lund: Studentlitteratur. 2007
  • 3. Kahneman D, Krueger AB, Schkade D, Schwarz N, Stone A. Toward National Well-Being Accounts. The American Economic Review. 2004 Maj;94(2):429-434.
  • 4. Diener E, Kahneman D, Arora R, Harter J, Tov W. Income’s Differential Influence on Judgments of Life Versus AffectiveWell-Being [Internet]. I: Assessing Well-Being. 2009 [citerad 2010 Jul 2]. p. 233 246.Available from:
  • 5. Schneider L, Schimmack U. Self-Informant Agreement in Well-Being Ratings: A Meta-Analysis. Social Indicators Research. 2009 Dec 1;94(3):363-376.
  • 6. Layard R. Happiness: Lessons from a New Science. Penguin (Non-Classics); 2006.
  • 7. Steptoe A, Wardle J, Marmot M. Positive affect and healthrelated neuroendocrine, cardiovascular, and inflammatory processes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2005 Maj 3;102(18):6508-6512.
  • 8. Daly MC, Wilson DJ. Happiness, Unhappiness, and Suicide: An Empirical Assessment. Journal of the European Economic Association. 2009 Apr 1;7(2-3):539-549.