Optimal Conditions for Happiness-Enhancing Interventions

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títuloOptimal Conditions for Happiness-Enhancing Interventions
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Optimal Conditions for Happiness-Enhancing Interventions

Becoming Happier Takes Both a Will and a Proper Way:

An Experimental Longitudinal Intervention to Boost Well-Being

Sonja Lyubomirsky, Rene Dickerhoof, and Julia K. Boehm

Kennon M. Sheldon

University of California, Riverside

University of Missouri-Columbia

Please address correspondence to:

Sonja Lyubomirsky

Department of Psychology

University of California

Riverside, CA 92521

Phone: 951-827-5041

Fax: 951-827-3985

Email: sonja.lyubomirsky@ucr.edu


An 8-months long experimental study examined the immediate and longer-term effects of regularly practicing two assigned positive activities – expressing optimism and gratitude – on well-being. More important, this intervention allowed us to explore the impact of two meta-factors that are likely to influence the success of any positive activity – whether one self-selects into the study knowing that it is about increasing happiness and whether one invests effort into the activity over time. Our results indicate that initial self-selection makes a difference, but only in the two positive activity conditions, not the control; and that continued effort also makes a difference, but again only in the treatment conditions. We conclude that happiness interventions are more than just placebos, but that they are most successful when participants know about, endorse, and commit to the intervention.
KEYWORDS: Happiness, intervention, gratitude, optimism, effort, motivation

Becoming Happier Takes Both a Will and a Proper Way:

An Experimental Longitudinal Intervention to Boost Well-Being

The pursuit of happiness and fulfillment is a goal shared by the majority of people in the West and increasingly around the world (Diener, 2000; Diener, Suh, Smith, & Shao, 1995). Historically speaking, because of psychology’s prevailing focus on the alleviation of psychopathology and weakness, relatively few studies (e.g., see Boehm & Lyubomirsky, 2009; Lyubomirsky, 2008; Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, & Schkade, 2005, for reviews) have actually attempted to increase individuals’ well-being (defined as high life satisfaction, frequent positive affect, and infrequent negative affect; Diener, Suh, Lucas, & Smith, 1999). The purpose of the current research was to test predictions from a model of well-being change (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005; Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2004), which argues that the intentional pursuit of greater happiness – when done under optimal conditions – can be successful.

We began by testing two activities that have previously been found to be effective in enhancing happiness – practicing optimistic thinking by visualizing one’s best possible future selves (cf. King, 2001) and expressing gratitude through writing (cf. Emmons & McCullough, 2003). More important, however, we examined two contextual or boundary conditions predicted by our model to impact the efficacy of these activities – namely, 1) the intention to use the intervention to become happier, as operationalized by a self-selection factor; and 2) ongoing effort exerted towards the activities specified by the intervention, as operationalized by objective ratings. For a framework to undergird these factors, we turn to a model of the architecture of well-being change.

A Model of Well-Being Change

In their model of happiness, Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, and Schkade (2005) proposed that three major factors contribute to people’s levels of well-being: 1) their happiness set point (i.e., the genetically-determined stable level of happiness, which has been shown to account for approximately 50% of the variance in individual differences in well-being), 2) their life circumstances (e.g., factors such as income, marital status, or religiosity, which are typically found to account for roughly 10% of individual differences in well-being), and 3) positive cognitive, behavioral, and goal-based activities (which have the potential to account for a significant portion – up to 40% – of individual differences in well-being) (see also Sheldon & Lyubomirsky, 2004, 2006a, 2007). This last factor – positive activity – has been the linchpin of recent research efforts to bolster people’s happiness levels and serves as the focus of the current studies. Thus, we focused on positive activities in the current research, examining factors that may moderate the impact of such activities on well-being.

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