The science of happiness under examination Health and wellness

We all want to be happy, and psychologists have been trying for decades to figure out how to achieve this state of happiness. Numerous surveys and experiments conducted in this area have indicated a wide range of methods, from giving away our things to stopping using Facebook or forcing yourself to smile while showing your teeth.

But psychology suffered a serious disruption in the past decade, when researchers realized that many studies were unreliable and unreproducible. This has led to a closer examination of psychological research methods, and the study of happiness is no exception. So what is that truly Makes us happy? Under today's close microscope, some paths to happiness seem to hold up, while others don't, or have yet to be proven again. This is what we know so far, and what remains to be evaluated, According to a new analysis Published in Annual Review of Psychology.

Put on a happy face

There is a long-standing hypothesis that smiling makes us feel happy. In a classic 1988 study, researchers asked 92 college students in Illinois to mark their mouths with their teeth, forcing them to smile unnaturally, or with their lips to frown. Next, students saw four examples of storyboards from… Far side. On average, those who have forced smiles I found the single panel comics a little more entertaining Of those who suffer from forced enclosures.

But when 17 different research laboratories came together to retest the effects of forced smiling on 1,894 new participants, The result did not hold upAs researchers reported in 2016.

The repeat study was part of a broader effort to address this The reproductive crisis in psychology, which is partly due to the variety of ways in which researchers can examine and reanalyze their data until they arrive at publishable results. “It's like shooting a bunch of arrows at a wall and then drawing a bullseye later,” says Elizabeth Dunn, a social psychologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and co-author of the new Vancouver study. Annual Review of Psychology.

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One solution was for scientists to publicly announce, or pre-register, their analytical plans before conducting their experiments. In other words, they draw the target point first. Dunne and graduate student Donegan Volk focused on these pre-registered studies in their analysis, narrowing the broad field of happiness research to just 48 published papers. Even that small number is encouraging, says Brian Nosek, a psychologist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and executive director of the Center for Open Science, which aims to improve the reproducibility of research. “The truth is, I was surprised that there were so many jobs that met the requirements,” he says. “This really shows that this area of ​​research has embraced many of these new practices to increase accuracy.”

Researchers studying how facial expressions affect mood used a pen to force people to make a smiling (left) or frowning (right) expression.Quentin Gruno/Flickr

Preregistration alone does not guarantee the validity of results, nor does it solve all reproducibility problems in psychology. Quality studies also require robust methods and large and diverse groups of participants, e.g. In fact, most of the papers reviewed were of high quality on those characteristics, beyond just pre-registration, Dunn says. The researchers found that even under the renewed scrutiny, some pathways to happiness held up, such as practicing gratitude, behaving prosocially, and spending money on other people.

Let's take the example of gratitude. In one recent study, researchers asked hundreds of parents to write about how they spent the week or send a thank-you note to someone they knew. Expression of gratitude Produced a more positive mood. In another recent study, scientists asked more than 900 college students to express their gratitude in letters, texts or on social media, or list their daily activities. Those from the gratitude group They seemed happier and more content. with his life the next day. In either case, it is not clear how long these effects will last.

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Three different pre-registered studies have suggested that socializing is beneficial. In one, scientists assigned 71 adults to act extroverted – “bold, talkative, outgoing, active and assertive” – for a week, and another 76 to be “reserved, sensitive, calm, modest and quiet”. Participants in the extrovert group Show a better mood During the study week, though, the benefits were smaller for people who were naturally introverted.

Surprisingly, smiling as a way to boost happiness has also been backed up by new pre-registered research – once scientists switched to more natural smiles. About two dozen laboratories from 19 different countries worked together to test the instructions for holding a pen between your teeth or imitating the expressions of a smiling person on nearly 4,000 subjects. Pressing the pen didn't help, but people who were told to imitate a smile did Show a better mood. Surprisingly, this was true Even if people don't believe it will workAnother team reported in 2023.

Researchers have also discovered that external factors can enhance people's happiness. Giving people money increased their life satisfaction, as did workplace interventions such as napping.

However, Dunn cautions that participation in pre-registered studies tends to have small effects on overall happiness, partly because scientists are unable to distribute the data in larger numbers. If the intervention is a diet programme, users may lose about 2kg, he says.

Good ideas and bad results

There are other well-known approaches to happiness that have fallen short of Dunn and Falk, at least not yet. The researchers found no clear evidence of the benefits of volunteering, performing random acts of kindness, or meditating. For example, in a recent pre-enrollment study, participants were asked to perform charitable acts for others, for themselves, or simply to make a list of what they did each day. Be kind to others for four weeks It made no difference to well-being.

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Dunn and Folk found no previously registered studies on Do exercises Or pass Time in naturetwo Frequently recommended strategies. This doesn't mean these strategies are ineffective or won't work, Dunn says, but given the landscape of pre-registered studies, the research hasn't weighed in on the issue. The pair looked at only two registered studies on meditation, and did not include research on meditation in people diagnosed with mental health problems.

Such rigor is admirable, but it also means things can be overlooked, says Simon Goldberg, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Goldberg studies the effects of meditation on people with – Psychological problems such as depression and anxiety. He points out that because of Dunn and Volk's strict criteria, they omitted hundreds of studies on… Benefits of meditation. “For the sake of rigor, many babies are thrown out with the bathwater,” he says. “It is very clear that meditation training reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression.”

Dan agrees that the review only covered the tip of the iceberg of happiness research. But this advice should expand as more psychologists pre-register their science as part of this What some call a renaissance In the field. As Dunn and Volk conclude, “happiness research stands on the threshold of an exciting new era.”

Article translated by Debbie Boenschner.

This article originally appeared on It can be found in Spanisha non-profit publication dedicated to making scientific knowledge accessible to all.

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