Studying happiness is a serious business

Much research into human happiness is fatally flawed because it relies upon questionnaires and rushed and trivial self-report surveys, a Cambridge-based Chartered Psychologst has argued.

Dr Nick Baylis says:

"in my experience of studying all-round well-being and highly inspiring lifetimes, there aren't just a couple of silver bullet ingredients. Instead there are a whole raft of useful strategies for life, any combination of which might be helpful depending on the particular circumstances.

"There are times when being super-social and connected will be the best course, and other times when vigorous independence will prosper. Only a determined spirit of exploration and versatile experimentation with life strategies will teach people what it is that makes them happy."

Dr Baylis was speaking following the publication in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology of a study looking at what people think are the most important factors in happiness.

The authors - psychologists Ronald Fisher and Diana Boer from the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand - found that freedom and personal autonomy are the most important factors. Money can lead to autonomy, but it rarely links directly to general well-being.

"Providing individuals with more autonomy appears to be important for reducing negative psychological symptoms, relatively independent of wealth," they explained.

However, Dr Baylis says that psychologists researching happiness and well-being need to collaborate to draw up far more robust research methods.