Spring 2006 Table of Contents.
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 New & Now.


Our Pleasure

Appropriate Pollens

Slow Spin Zone

Pork Fat Rules

Hall of Shame


Our Pleasure

"Happiness depends, as Nature shows, less on exterior things than most suppose," wrote William Cowper, the oft-despondent English poet, in 1779. Today, more than two centuries later, a team of researchers has discovered that Cowper knew what he was talking about.

People who are happy in spite of what the world throws at them -- those with personalities characterized by "positive" or "cheerful" attitudes -- tend to be healthier, wealthier and, in general, more successful than their morose counterparts, says Laura King, a professor of psychological sciences at MU.

This is not, as one might suppose, because success tends to breed happiness. In fact, the researchers found, such formulations have it exactly backwards: Happy people tend to be successful because they are happy. Or, as King puts it, "It appears that happiness, rooted in personality and in past successes, leads to behaviors that often lead to further success."

Along with Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California-Riverside and principal investigator Ed Diener of the University of Illinois, King recently co-authored a study of happiness' effects for the American Psychological Association's Psychological Bulletin. The study examined 225 previously published papers on happiness, a cache of scholarship that yielded data from some 275,000 people.

In part to test previous findings suggesting that people who are feeling good are more inclined to strive toward new goals, the authors used the data to test the validity of a "conceptual model" showing a cause-and-effect relationship between happiness and success. Testing this model involved analyzing certain key questions, such as: Were people who displayed a "positive affect" -- defined as appearing cheerful and happy to neutral observers -- more successful in achieving various culturally valued goals? When successful people were indeed happy, did their happiness precede their successes? Did the success and happiness of positive-feeling people lead, in turn, to the types of attitudes and behaviors that yielded further good fortune?

The answer to all three questions, happy readers will be pleased to hear, appears to be yes. "Our review of the relevant experimental literature reveals compelling evidence that positive affect fosters the following resources, skills, and behaviors: sociability and activity, altruism, liking of self and others, strong bodies and immune systems, and effective conflict resolution skills," the scientists wrote. "The evidence is weaker, but still consistent, that pleasant moods promote original thinking."

They added that a "positive affect" is likely the most important factor in the relationship between happiness and culturally valued success.

"In summary," they wrote, "although many researchers presuppose that happiness follows from successes and accomplishments in life, our review provides strong, albeit not conclusive, evidence that happiness may, in many cases, lead to successful outcomes, rather than merely following from them."

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Published by the Office of Research.

©2006 Curators of the University of Missouri. Click here to contact the editor.