How do positive psychologists really measure happiness?

Last weekend, for three days in a row, we had unseasonably beautiful weather in San Francisco. If you are not familiar with the weather patterns for San Francisco, they can be rather cold and foggy. However, last weekend we had a break from the fog. Given this opportunity, my family and I took advantage and enjoyed some weekend activities outside. On Saturday, we enjoyed a long walk on Ocean beach and picnicked in Golden Gate Park. On Sunday, we samples some local food at our farmers market and then rented bikes, took the ferry over to Angle Island, road them around Island, and relaxed in the sun as the afternoon passed.

By Sunday afternoon, something struck me. What would I say if someone asked me, “Were you happy this weekend”? My response would be, “Well, yes,” but happiness is actually a bit narrow in describing how I felt.

When we were walking down to the beach I felt energized and alive; while walking on the beach I felt engaged with my senses; while picnicking in the park, I felt relaxed, calm, and stress free; when we were at our farmer market I felt a sense of community as I interacted with fellow San Franciscan’s; and during our bike ride, I experienced awe as I enjoyed the view of natural wonder. And even these emotions don’t fully capture the weekend as I felt more closely connected to my family as a result of them being there with me. So, what does my weekend have to do with measuring happiness?

When I tell people that I am a happiness researcher, two of the more common reactions are:

  • You can’t measure happiness because its meaning differs when you ask different people to define it; and
  • “Happiness” doesn’t fully capture the full range of emotions and evaluations we make about our lives.

There is some degree of truth in both of these statements and I think my weekend captures that. But psychologists are beginning to research the beliefs people have about what makes life worth living. And when we ask people how they define the good life, there are (at least) four different paths people take to living it:

(1) Experiencing a lot of positive emotions.

(2) Experiencing as few negative emotions as possible.

(3) Spending a lot of time with friends and family.

(4) Trying to fill life with purpose.

Personally, I am not one to try to define happiness for others; that is something people must do for themselves. But what I can do is provide ways to help you determine your baseline happiness levels and measure your happiness so you can take action to increase the happiness you experience in your life.

For these reasons, I think that before one can take action to try to increase the “happiness” they experience in their lives, they must first: (1) define happiness for themselves (how do you define the good life?) and (2) determine their baseline happiness levels. To receive personalized feedback on how you define the good life and on your current level of global happiness, first Login or Register with BeyondThePurchase.Org then take the beliefs in well-being scale and the happiness and life satisfaction scale.

By taking these two scales you will receive personalized feedback on how you define the good life and your current level of global happiness. Only by knowing how you define happiness and how you current stand on one of the most basic measures of well-being can you begin to determine what types of decisions you should make to improve your happiness.

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