The Determinants of Positive Well Being

Positive well-being has multiple determinants at the individual, social, and ecological levels, and these have been extensively studied by a variety of social scientists ranging from personality psychologists to economists (Diener et al, 1999; Dolan et al, 2008). There is good evidence that positive affect is moderately heritable (Lykken and Tellegen, 1996), and this association may be mediated through temperamental dispositions such as high extraversion, low neuroticism, and optimism. Positive well-being is strongly related to satisfying social relationships and social engagement, though the causal sequence can be difficult to disentangle (Lyubomirsky et al, 2005). The issues of causation and reverse causation also bedevil analyses of the relationship between positive well-being and income or wealth. There is evidence, on one hand, that changes in income stimulate changes in well-being and, on the other hand, that high positive well-being predicts future increases in income and wealth. It would appear in developed countries that relative income is more influential on well-being than absolute income (Clark et al, 2008). Across the population, positive well-being tends to be greater in younger and older people, with the lowest levels in the middle years of adult life (Dolan et al, 2008). The experience of stressful life events leads to a deterioration in well-being, while positive events have the reverse effect, but there is controversy over the extent which longer-term adaptation takes place (Diener et al, 2006). Happiness appears to be transmitted through social networks (Fowler and Christakis, 2008), while interpersonal interactions such as generosity and giving also promote positive affect (Dunn et al, 2008). Many of the diverse findings in the literature are a result of differences in measurement, including whether the measure is immediate (e.g. "how do you feel right now?") or reflective (e.g. "if you were to consider your life in general these days, how happy or unhappy would you say you are?"). Studies in which psychological states are measured repeatedly over time using ecological momentary assessment (EMA) or the day reconstruction method may generate different results from those that involve questionnaires that require integration of subjective states over days or weeks (Kahneman and Krueger, 2006).

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