The Science Of Happiness: What Truly “Lights You Up”?

by | Feb 23, 2012 | Health & News | 1 comment

What really makes you happy, light up and want to jump out of bed in the morning? Is it money or a youthful appearance? Well, a new niche within the field of Psychology, called Positive Psychology is delving into these intriguing questions (1).

For over two decades, Edward Diener, Ph.D., a.k.a. “Dr. Happiness” and professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, has been examining what makes us feel satisfied with life (2). Is it wealth? Education? High IQ? Youth? Healthy sex life?

Well, the results may be shocking to you. External conditions may have little effect on our level of happiness. According to Dr. Diener, regarding wealth, once a certain threshold has been met additional income does little to raise their sense of satisfaction (3). In fact, a recent study found that teenagers from blue-collar families were happier than teenagers from rich families. Per Dr. Diener, “the most salient characteristics shared by the 10% of students with the highest levels of happiness and the fewest signs of depression were their strong ties to friends and family and commitment to spending time with them.” (4).

A good education or a higher IQ also proved not to be the charm for a blissful life.

Youth? No, again the research finds that older people are more consistently satisfied with their lives than the young and they are less prone to dark moods. According to a recent survey done by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, people ages 20 – 24 are sad on average of 3.4 days a month, as opposed to just 2.3 days for people ages 65- 74 (5).

Healthy sex life? Yes, according to my clinical research being involved in a healthy intimate relationship with your partner can bring much joy and happiness to life.

Can science accurately measure happiness?

The simple fact is that happiness is inherently subjective and not a static state. One time of day you may be joyful and another you may feel depressed. But from an overall sense, how satisfied are you with your life?

To help us determine this, Dr. Diener created one of the most basic and widely used tools, the Satisfaction with Life Scale, a simple five-question survey which helps to measure your true level of happiness. I’ve included it below. Remember to be honest with your answers to make this experience truly worthwhile…

The Satisfaction with Life Scale
By Ed Diener, Ph.D.

DIRECTIONS: Below are five statements with which you may agree or disagree. Using the 1-7 scale below, indicate your agreement with each item by placing the appropriate number in the line preceding that item. Please be open and honest in your responding.

1 = Strongly Disagree
2 = Disagree
3 = Slightly Disagree
4 = Neither Agree or Disagree
5 = Slightly Agree
6 = Agree
7 = Strongly Agree

______1. In most ways, my life is close to my ideal.
______2. The conditions of my life are excellent.
______3. I am satisfied with life.
______4. So far I have gotten the important things I want in life.
______5. If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing.

And here is the score key:
31 – 35 Extremely satisfied
26 – 30 Satisfied
21 – 25 Slightly satisfied
20 – Neutral
15 – 19 Slightly dissatisfied
10 – 14 Dissatisfied
5 – 9 Extremely dissatisfied

Now that you’ve taken the assessment, how did you fare? Were you surprised by your results?

Would you like to know an easy and amazing way to raise your level of happiness?

Start a gratitude journal! It may sound simple, but according to Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist at the University of California at Riverside, simply writing down things we are thankful for once a week can brighten our lives.

Dr. Lyubormirsky studied two groups of subjects. One group was instructed to conscientiously count their blessings once a week and write them in a journal, while the second group did not. The results were astounding! By the end of six weeks, all subjects in the first group scored significantly higher on the overall satisfaction of life whereas the second group showed no such gain (6).

I would suggest taking it up a notch and write something every day! I have started writing in mine and I must admit, it does bring a smile to my face even if the day wasn’t all that rosy. I even decorated the front and back with some of my painted acrylic postcards to add some radiance and personal touches. Get creative and make your own. Add adventurous or loving photos of your partner, family, friends and any others that brighten your everyday.

Yet, if you or your partner are experiencing a loss of desire for simple things in life, including your sexual intimacy, you might have a hormonal imbalance or other condition such as depression. Don’t hesitate to contact your doctor to discuss these issues – there are ways to help!

I invite you to take the 6-week gratitude journal challenge! It will help light you up and improve your health — stay tuned!


1. Seligman, M. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. (2000). “Positive Psychology: An Introduction”. American Psychologist, 55 (1): 5–14.
2. Diener, C. January 17, 2005, Time Magazine, The Science of Happiness
3. Diener, E. & Seligman, M.E. (2004). Beyond Money: Toward an economy of well-being. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 5(1), 1-31.
4. Diener, E., Seligman, ME, (2002). “Very Happy People”. Psychol. Sci. Jan.;13 (1): 81-4.
5. Center for Disease Control, (2005) Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
6. Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness:
The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9: 111-131.

Also, let me know what “lights you up” by leaving me a comment below: