Happy People, Better Health

By Laura Saslow, Kat Saxton, Aaron Shaw, Erica Lee | June 11, 2010 | 0 comments

Summaries of new research on the link between happiness and health, emotionally intelligent executives, and empathy.

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* This new Greater Good section, Research Digests, offers short summaries of recent studies on happiness, compassion, altruism, and more. Quick to read, easy to digest—we read the research so you don’t have to!


Happy People, Better Health

"Positive Affect and Psychobiological Processes Relevant to Health. "

Journal of Personality. Volume 77 (6), December 2009, Pages 1747-1776.

Surveying a wave of research on happiness, the authors examine the many ways that feeling happy can and might be linked to better health. Even when compared with people whose behavior is just as healthy as their own, happier people tend to have better health, including less stress hormones. Interestingly, research has found that people who cope with problems by engaging with them (rather than avoiding them) and seek social support are both happier and less stressed. —Laura Saslow

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Moral Behavior and Time Perception

"Moral Concerns are Greater for Temporally Distant Events and are Moderated by Strength"

Agerström , Jens; Björklund , Fredrik. (April 2009). Social Cognition. 27(2) 261-282.

How near or far we perceive an event to be from the present may affect our moral reasoning. Participants had to consider events that would take place in the near future or in the distant future. When thinking about events in the distant future, people indicated they would be more likely to choose altruistic over selfish behaviors, reported they would feel more guilty about engaging in selfish behavior, thought acting selfishly would be more immoral, and were more likely to commit to altruistic behavior. —Aaron Shaw

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Resilience and Workplace Well-Being

"Executive Coaching Enhances Goal Attainment, Resilience and Workplace Well-Being: A Randomized Controlled Study "

Journal of Positive Psychology, Volume 4 (5), September 2009. Pages 396 – 407.

Researchers coached executives four times over roughly two months, using techniques designed to help the executives identify and achieve their goals. The training drew heavily on principles from positive psychology, specifically in its emphasis on helping the executives understand the personal strengths and resources that could help them achieve their goals, evaluate their progress toward those goals, and modify their plans to best support their goals over time. The sessions were also meant to highlight how the executives’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors influence their goal achievement.

Compared to those on a waitlist for the training, executives who received the coaching sessions were better able to achieve their goals and reported more resilience and well-being. The authors suggest that this type of coaching, which emphasizes emotional intelligence while drawing on lessons from positive psychology, can help people cope effectively with the inevitable setbacks that occur in work and life by reducing self-defeating behaviors and negative self-talk, and making them more focused on their goals. —Laura Saslow

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Depressive Symptoms in Urban Youth at Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

"Correlates of Depressive Symptoms in Urban Youth at Risk for Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus"

Journal of School Health. Vol 79(6), Jun 2009, 286-292.

Researchers found that urban youth with more severe symptoms of depression were at higher risk of Type 2 diabetes, and those same kids reported feeling less support for physical activity and a weaker ability to take control of their diet. The researchers suggest that evaluating and treating urban youth for depression could help prevent Type 2 diabetes among them. —Kat Saxton

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Empathy and the Face vs. the Voice

"Unpacking the Informational Bases of Empathic Accuracy"

Emotion. Vol 9(4), Aug 2009, 478-487.

“Empathic accuracy” is the ability to correctly identify the emotional and mental states of others, a critical skill in social interactions. In this study, researchers tested empathic accuracy by videotaping participants as they discussed positive and negative autobiographical events. Objective viewers then rated how they thought participants felt when telling their stories, based on watching and/or hearing the tapes. The more expressive a participant was, the more accurate viewers were at assessing the actor’s emotion. Accuracy was the greatest when participants visually expressed negative emotions, and when they verbally expressed positive emotion.

The researchers explain these results by arguing that people usually inhibit negative facial expressions in social situations, so when they do exhibit negative facial expressions, those expressions are an important and salient cue to observers. Similarly, positive facial expressions are common and thus not reliable indicators of one’s true emotional state. So, paying attention to the language people use when describing a positive experience is more important to identifying their emotional state. —Erica Lee

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