Correlates of happiness

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There exists a plethora of research findings concerning the covariation between measures of happiness on scales such as those described above and a variety of demographic and resource variables. This research is comprehensively reviewed by Argyle (2001) and Layard (2005). To overview briefly, age and education show only small correlations with subjective reports of happiness (Diener, 1984). It has been found that income is related to well-being, but that this relationship is only significant below a minimal level of income and is consequently much stronger in poorer countries (Vitterso et al., 2002); moreover, the effect may be of relative income compared to others in a community or culture rather than to the absolute level of income

(e.g., Helliwell & Putnam, 2005). Okun and George (1984) found a surprisingly small correlation between health and reports of happiness when objective measures of health are employed, although there is a small but clear effect (Power, Quinn, Schmidt, & The WHOQOL-OLD Group, 2005). Finally, unemployment has been a predictor of unhappiness in some studies (e.g., Clark, 2003) and marriage has been a consistent but weak positive predictor of subjective reports of happiness, with married individuals being reportedly more happy than single individuals (e.g., Helliwell & Putnam, 2005; Oswald, 1997).

Even putting aside basic methodological issues—for example, that perhaps it is happy people who get married, rather than married people who are happy (although recent evidence suggests that both statements may be true to some extent: see Lucas, Clark, Georgellis, & Diener, 2003, for summary findings from a longitudinal German study)—the general lack of positive correlational findings between what objectively might be thought of as desirable resources or qualities and subjective reports of happiness requires explanation. It seems that objective life situations and resources are, at best, weak predictors of happiness. Indeed this has been starkly illustrated in some comparative studies; for example, Easterlin (1974, 1995) found that poor people are often happier than rich people, and Brickman, Coates, and Janoff-Bulman (1978) found that recent lottery winners are often no happier than control participants, only slightly happier than recently paralysed accident victims, and no happier than they were before they won the lottery. Overall, Andrews and Withey (1976) found that age, sex, race, education, income, religion, occupation, employment status, and size of city only accounted for approximately 11% of the total variance in subjective judgements of happiness. Similarly Kammann (1982) concluded that objective life circumstances routinely account for less than 5% of the variance in subjective judgements of happiness.

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