How Adolescents Can Feel More Purpose In Life — And More Positive Emotions (M)

Feeling purposeful is critical because it stokes optimism and hope and has all sorts of other benefits for mental and physical health.

Feeling purposeful is critical because it stokes optimism and hope and has all sorts of other benefits for mental and physical health.

Sorry, this article is for paying members only.

Please find out more about accessing all PsyBlog articles.

Members can sign in below:

Why Some In Miserable Relationships Don’t Complain (M)

In an unhappy marriage often one partner fails to speak up about problems affecting them both, but why?

In an unhappy marriage often one partner fails to speak up about problems affecting them both, but why?

People with low self-esteem are more likely to stay in an unhappy marriage, a study finds.

They are also likely to keep quiet about any problems in the relationship.

This is probably due to concerns about being rejected.

Dr Megan McCarthy, the study’s author, said:

“There is a perception that people with low self-esteem tend to be more negative and complain a lot more.

While that may be the case in some social situations, our study suggests that in romantic relationships, the partner with low self-esteem resists addressing problems.”

Unhappy marriage

The study tested the effects of low self-esteem on relationships.

The researchers found that not speaking up about problems led to more overall dissatisfaction with the relationship.

Dr McCarthy said:

“We’ve found that people with a more negative self-concept often have doubts and anxieties about the extent to which other people care about them.

This can drive low self-esteem people toward defensive, self-protective behaviour, such as avoiding confrontation.”

Dr McCarthy said:

“If your significant other is not engaging in open and honest conversation about the relationship it may not be that they don’t care, but rather that they feel insecure and are afraid of being hurt.”

Dealing with serious issues

The study also found that people with high self-esteem who are agreeable tend to disclose their emotions more readily.

The reason is that they are more trusting of their partner’s caring nature.

In contrast, those with with low self-esteem found it harder to admit difficult emotions like sadness or to share risky thoughts with their partner.

Dr McCarthy said:

“We may think that staying quiet, in a ‘forgive and forget’ kind of way, is constructive, and certainly it can be when we feel minor annoyances.

But when we have a serious issue in a relationship, failing to address those issues directly can actually be destructive.”

Dr McCarthy concluded:

“We all know that close relationships can sometimes be difficult.

The key issue, then, is how we choose to deal with it when we feel dissatisfied with a partner.”

The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (McCarthy et al., 2017).

16 Interesting & Scientific Facts About Happiness

Scientific and interesting facts about happiness reveal the thoughts and behaviours that are proven to make people happier.

Scientific and interesting facts about happiness reveal the thoughts and behaviours that are proven to make people happier.

People taught the basics of happiness science consistently report better mental health, research finds.

University students who did an online ‘Science of Happiness’ course fared better mentally than their peers who did not take the course, the study found (Hobbs et al., 2022).

Facts about happiness

There is a longer description of the study at the bottom of this article, but here are the facts about happiness taught on the course, (relevant studies are linked):

It is based on the latest research into the thoughts and behaviours that are proven to make people happier.

  1. Talking to strangers makes us happier, despite a majority of us shying away from such encounters (see: why you should talk to strangers).
  2. Social media is not bad for everyone, but it can be bad for those who focus on their reputation (12).
  3. Loneliness is linked to a weakened immune system.
  4. People who are optimistic tend to live longer.
  5. Giving gifts to others activates our own reward centres in the brain—often providing more of a happiness boost than spending money on yourself (why spending money on others promotes your happiness).
  6. Sleep deprivation impacts how well we are liked by others (people feel socially unattractive when they don’t get enough sleep).
  7. Walking in the countryside deactivates part of the brain related to negative ruminations, which are associated with depression (As little as 10 minutes spent in nature is enough to make people feel happier).
  8. Kindness and happiness are correlated (acts of kindness really do boost happiness).

More facts about happiness

Here are some more interesting facts about happiness, as revealed by psychological research.

9. Most people are happy most of the time

Maybe you don’t need to do anything at all to feel happy…

People are, on average, in a mildly good mood most of the time all around the world, a study finds.

Researchers have reviewed evidence drawn from many different nations — rich and poor, stable and unstable.

As long as people have not just experienced a strong emotional event, even those in poor circumstances are likely to be in a mild positive mood.

10. The mid-life dip is normal

Life satisfaction dips in middle age, after which it starts going up again beyond the age of 54, a study of worldwide well-being finds.

The dip in life satisfaction occurs around the age of 45 until 54, and is seen across many wealthy English-speaking countries, including the United States, Canada, the UK and Australia.

Professor Angus Deaton, one of the study’s co-authors, said:

“This finding is almost expected.

This is the period at which wage rates typically peak and is the best time to work and earn the most, even at the expense of present well-being, so as to have increased wealth and well-being later in life.”

11. Take a tip from seniors

With increasing age, people get more pleasure out of everyday experiences; while younger people define themselves more by extraordinary experiences, a study finds.

The study asked over 200 people between the ages of 19 and 79 about happy experiences they’d had that were both ordinary and extraordinary.

It was older people who managed to extract more pleasure from relatively ordinary experiences.

They got more pleasure out of spending time with their family, from the look on someone’s face or a walk in the park.

12. Prioritise positivity for happiness

An approach to life called ‘prioritising positivity’ has been linked to increased well-being.

Prioritising positivity is all about organising your everyday life around activities which bring pleasure.

The authors explain:

“Perhaps people high on prioritizing positivity reserve Saturday afternoons for watching college football or taking their family to a local park.

Maybe others start their weekdays running or drinking tea while reading the New York Times.

Some people may consistently seek out activities that elicit calm and contentment whereas others may seek out excitement and vigor.

The exact behaviors or choices may differ drastically from one person to the next…”

13. Fact about happiness: walk happy, feel happy

It’s well-known that when we’re in a good mood, our style of walking tends to reflect how we feel: we bounce along, shoulders back, swinging our arms in style.

Sometimes, just from our gait, it’s more obvious to other people how we feel than to ourselves.

Well, a study finds that it also works the other way around: people who imitate a happy style of walking, even without realising it, find themselves feeling happier.

14. Act like an extrovert (even if you’re not)

Acting like an extrovert — even if you are an introvert — makes people all around the world feel happier, research suggests.

The findings come from surveys of hundreds of people in the US, Venezuela, the Philippines, China and Japan

Across the board, people reported that they felt more positive emotions in daily situations where they either acted or felt more extroverted.

The study, published in the Journal of Research in Personality, also found that people tended to behave in a more upbeat way when they felt most free.

15. Mindful dishwashing and happiness

Mindful dishwashing can decrease stress and calm the mind, a study finds.

People in the study focused on the smell of the soap, the feel and shape of the dishes to help them enter a mindful state.

Doing the dishes in a mindful way also increased the pleasurable feeling of time slowing down, the researchers found.

16. Seek out the feeling of awe

That jaw-dropping moment when coming across something surprising, powerful, beautiful or even sublime can have a transformative effect.

Awe makes people more patient, less materialistic and more open to helping out others.

This may happen because awe slows down our subjective experience of time.

Awe, the authors write, has two components (in case you want to seek it out scientifically!):

“First, awe involves perceptual vastness, which is the sense that one has encountered something immense in size, number, scope, complexity, ability, or social bearing (e.g., fame, authority).

Second, awe stimulates a need for accommodation; that is, it alters one’s understanding of the world.”

Scientific facts about happiness study details

The study, which was carried out during the start of the pandemic, included 166 students who took the course over one semester — they were compared to a control group.

The results showed that while well-being and anxiety declined in the control group as the pandemic continued, those who had taken the course maintained their good humour.

Professor Bruce Hood, study co-author, said:

“The results were a welcome sign that the course is achieving its aims.

It was also pleasing to see it working with all content and interactions conducted online.”

One of the students, Izzy Bond, who took the course and went on to become a student mentor, said:

“One of the things that really stood out from the course is when we did a quiz which ranked what we felt were our strengths and weaknesses.

Studies have shown that those who do jobs that match their strengths have higher life satisfaction—all of my strengths suggested I would enjoy being an academic, which really confirmed my decision to pursue becoming a lecturer.”


Happiness By Age: What Age Are People Happiest?

Surveys carried out over 30+ years reveal the age at which people are happiest.

Surveys carried out over 30+ years reveal the age at which people are happiest.

People get happier as they get older, research finds.

Surveys of Americans carried out between 1972 and 2004 show that older people are the nation’s happiest.

Across the different generations, around 50 percent of people over the age of 80 said they were ‘very happy’.

It may be because older, more mature people are likely to be more at ease with themselves and to have higher self-esteem.

Dr Yang Yang, the study’s author, said:

“Understanding happiness is important to understanding quality of life.

The happiness measure is a guide to how well society is meeting people’s needs.”

Happiness by age research

For the series of surveys a representative cross-section of Americans was asked the following question:

“Taken all together, how would you say things are these days–would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?”

The responses also teased out some interesting wrinkles.

The so-called ‘baby boomer’ generation, those born between 1946 and 1964, were less happy than other equivalent generations.

Dr Yang said:

“This is probably due to the fact that the generation as a group was so large, and their expectations were so great, that not everyone in the group could get what he or she wanted as they aged due to competition for opportunities.

This could lead to disappointment that could undermine happiness.”

What age are people happiest?

The study also found that African Americans are, on average, less happy than whites.

Among 18-year-olds, just 15 percent of black men said they were very happy in comparison to 33 percent of white women.

In fact, women were more happy than men overall, across racial and class divides.

Over the years, needless to say, having a significant other and having your health make you much more happy.

One surprise, to some perhaps, is that having no children increases the chances of being happy over the lifetime.

The study was published in the journal American Sociological Review (Yang, 2008).

7 Psychological Strategies For A More Meaningful Life

Feeling that life is meaningful is crucial for good psychological and physical health.

Feeling that life is meaningful is crucial for good psychological and physical health.

People who feel that life is more meaningful tend to have more purpose, stronger values, greater efficacy and self-worth.

Psychologists repeatedly find that feeling that life is meaningful is important:

  • People who feel life is meaningful are more likely to be in both good psychological and good physical health.
  • People who feel life isn’t meaningful are more likely to be depressed, to require therapy and even feel suicidal.

Meaning in life is particularly important to people in their 20s and 60s, although most adults can feel when it is missing.

So, below are 7 psychology studies, some from the members-only section of PsyBlog, that reveal how to increase meaning in life.

(If you are not already, find out how to become a PsyBlog member here.)

  1. How To Experience More Meaning In Life
  2. These Everyday Interactions Increase Sense Of Purpose In Life
  3. The 5 Signs Of Meaningful Work
  4. A Sense of Belonging Increases Meaningfulness of Life
  5. 20 Movies That Help You Make Sense Of Life
  6. An Exercise For Increasingly Meaningfulness
  7. The 4 Things That People Say Gives Their Lives Meaning


How To Enjoy Downtime Even If You’re Productivity-Obsessed

For those who find it wasteful, leisure time can be reframed to create more purpose.

For those who find it wasteful, leisure time can be reframed to create more purpose.

Believing that leisure is unproductive and wasteful is linked to higher levels of stress and depression and lower levels of happiness, a study finds.

Many people believe that being productive is the ultimate goal of life and if you’re not serving some greater purpose, then you’re wasting time.

However, people who hold this view are more likely to report poor mental health and enjoy their leisure time the least.

Dr Selin Malkoc, study co-author, said:

“There is plenty of research which suggests that leisure has mental health benefits and that it can make us more productive and less stressed.

But we find that if people start to believe that leisure is wasteful, they may end up being more depressed and more stressed.”

Serving a greater goal

One way for the productive-minded to enjoy leisure more, though, is to see it as part of a greater goal, explained Dr Rebecca Reczek, study co-author:

“If leisure can be framed as having some kind of productive goal, that helps people who think leisure is wasteful get some of the same benefits.”

Dr Malkoc agrees:

“…think about the productive ways that individual leisure activities can serve their long-term goals.

Find ways to make fun activities part of a larger goal in your life.

Think about how it is productive, instrumental and useful.”

The conclusions come from a series of studies, one of which asked people how they celebrated Halloween.

Some activities, such as going to a party, were fun for their own sake while others, like taking children trick-or-treating, served a larger goal.

People subscribing to the popular belief that leisure is wasteful found the party less enjoyable.

However, this was not the case for the trick-or-treating, said Dr Gabriela Tonietto, the study’s first author, said:

“Those who participated in fun activities that fulfilled responsibilities, like trick or treating with your kids, didn’t see such a reduction in how much they enjoyed their Halloween.”

Negative views about leisure are worldwide

It is not just Americans who view leisure time as wasteful — the view is globalised, said Dr Reczek:

“We live in a global society and there are people everywhere that hear the same messages about how important it is to be busy and productive.

And once you believe that, and internalize the message that leisure is a waste, our results suggest you’re going to be more depressed and less happy, no matter where you live.”

Negative views about leisure can be surprisingly damaging, affecting people’s ability to enjoy themselves even in the simplest ways.

In one study, students were invited to do a boring task which had a break in the middle when they watched a funny cat video.

However, people who view leisure as a waste of time couldn’t enjoy the video at all.

Dr Malkoc explained:

“These are students who are coming into the lab to answer surveys, which can be boring.

In the middle of that we give them a funny video to watch, which you would expect would be a nice break – and even then, some participants didn’t enjoy it as much.

They had no way to use the time more productively.

We were giving them a break from other, more boring activities.

And still, those who believe leisure is wasteful didn’t think watching the videos was as fun as others did.”

The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (Tonietto et al., 2021).

Does Therapy Make You Happier?

Will therapy make you much happier. According to this study, it works 32 times better than money.

Will therapy make you much happier. According to this study, it works 32 times better than money.


You need enough to live, but loads of it doesn’t make you that much happier.

It’s something we’ve all heard — whether it’s from psych studies or rich people — but do we behave as though it’s true?

I sometimes wonder.

To help convince our inner Mr Burns, here’s a nice statistic from a study done by researchers at the Universities of Manchester and Warwick, who compared the happiness gains from money to that from psychological therapy (Boyce & Wood, 2009).

Therapy makes you 32 times happier than money

They found that therapy was 32 times as cost effective as money in making you happier.

They reached this figure by looking at thousands of people who’d started therapy and compared them with others who’d had large increases in their income.

It turned out that to get the same increase in happiness from $1,300 spent on therapy, a person would have to get a mammoth pay rise of $42,000.

Hardly likely, right?

The study’s lead author, Chris Boyce, said:

“Often the importance of money for improving our well-being and bringing greater happiness is vastly over-valued in our societies.

The benefits of having good mental health, on the other hand, are often not fully appreciated and people do not realise the powerful effect that psychological therapy, such as non-directive counselling, can have on improving our well-being.”

Getting richer, but no happier

If this is true, why are many governments so obsessed with economic growth and apparently so little concerned with mental health?

Take the Chinese, for example, who are getting much richer, but no happier. That’s just one of many, many examples.

Although economic growth in many major economies is less dramatic than in China, the effects on happiness are about the same: zilch, or close enough.

Any idiot knows the answer to this one: it’s because money makes the world go round, world go round, world go round…

And yet it makes me think we’re all idiots for nodding our heads sagely that money can’t make you happy, then off we all go to put in another 12 hour day, or whatever it is.

Think how much happier the world would be if, instead of annual pay rises or bonuses, we were all sent off to talk to a sympathetic stranger for a few hours.


Why Spending Money On Others Promotes Your Happiness

Contrary to many people’s instincts, money spent on others gives more happiness than money spent on themselves.

Contrary to many people’s instincts, money spent on others gives more happiness than money spent on themselves.

This is not a radical idea which will blow your mind with its incredible newness.

Far from it.

But, because it’s advice that sometimes goes against our natural instinct, it’s worth repeating.

Research suggests that many people think that spending money on themselves will make them happier than spending it on other people (Dunn et al., 2008).

But there is evidence from various different studies that, on average, this isn’t true:

  • Participants who were given $5 or $20 to spend on another person were happier than those who spent it on themselves (Dunn et al., 2008).
  • People who spend greater proportions of their income on giving to others or to charity are happier than those who spend it on themselves (Dunn et al., 2008).
  • Canadian and Ugandan students who thought back to times they’d been generous to others were happier than those thinking back to money they’d spent on themselves (Aknin et al., 2010).

And we haven’t even taken into account how happy it makes the recipient.

Prosocial spending

But why? Why is it that spending our money on others—prosocial spending—makes us happier?

It’s partly because giving to others makes us feel good about ourselves.

It helps promote a view of ourselves as responsible and giving people, which in turn makes us feel happy.

It’s also partly because spending money on others helps cement our social relationships.

And people with stronger social ties are generally happier.

So if prosocial spending makes us feel good, how come we tend to think personal spending will make us happier?

It’s because of the insidious effect money has on the mind.

Studies have shown that the simplest reminder of money has all kinds of negative effects (from Vohs et al., 2006).

It makes us:

  • less likely to help others,
  • less likely to donate to charity,
  • less likely to spend time with others,
  • three times more likely to want to work alone, despite knowing we’re taking on more work.

These are all precisely the behaviours that are likely to make us happy, yet just being reminded of money makes us less likely to engage in them.

It’s not that money is always evil; under the right circumstances it can motivate us and modern societies would be difficult without it.

But money clearly has some negative psychological effects.

So fight money’s evil side. Fool it. Betray it. Give it away!

Generosity is the good type of selfishness.


This Type of Conversation Makes You Happier

All personality types benefit from this type of conversation.

All personality types benefit from this type of conversation.

Having more meaningful or ‘deep’ conversations makes people happier, research finds.

Whether extravert or introvert, people who exchanged more meaningful information about relationships, politics or whatever, were happier.

At the other end of the scale, trivial chat or ‘small talk’ had no link to happiness, one way or the other.

Professor Matthias Mehl, who led the study, said:

“We do not think anymore that there is an inherent tension between having small talk and having substantive conversations.

Small didn’t positively contribute to happiness, and it didn’t negatively contribute to it.

With this study, we wanted to find out whether it is primarily the quantity or the quality of our social encounters that matter for one’s well-being.”

For the study, small recording devices were used to capture snippets of everyday conversation from 486 volunteers.

Professor Mehl explained the difference between small talk and a substantive conversation in their study:

“We define small talk as a conversation where the two conversation partners walk away still knowing equally as much — or little — about each other and nothing else.

In substantive conversation, there is real, meaningful information exchanged.

Importantly, it could be about any topic — politics, relationships, the weather — it just needs to be at a more than trivial level of depth.”

Personality had no effect on how much of a happiness boost people got from deep conversations, Professor Mehl said:

“We expected that personality might make a difference, for example that extroverts might benefit more from social interactions than introverts or that substantive conversations might be more closely linked to well-being for introverts than for extroverts, and were very surprised that this does not seem to be the case.”

Although small talk was not linked to happiness, it is still necessary, said Professor Mehl:

“I think of it like this: In every pill, there’s an inactive ingredient, and it’s a nice metaphor, because you cannot have the pill without the inactive ingredient.

We all understand that small talk is a necessary component to our social lives.

You cannot usually walk up to a stranger and jump right into a deep, existential conversation because of social norms.”

Perhaps, says Professor Mehl, people could be prescribed a deep conversation as a treatment:

“I would like to experimentally ‘prescribe’ people a few more substantive conversations and see whether that does something to their happiness.”

The study was published in the journal Psychological Science (Milek et al., 2018).