1. Study suggests cultural context may affect link between positive emotions and health

    September 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    Positive emotions are often seen as critical aspects of healthy living, but new research suggests that the link between emotion and health outcomes may vary by cultural context. The findings, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, show that experiencing positive emotions is linked with better cardiovascular health in the US but not in Japan.

    “Our key finding is that positive emotions predict blood-lipid profiles differently across cultures,” says psychological scientist Jiah Yoo of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “American adults who experience high levels of positive emotions, such as feeling ‘cheerful’ and ‘extremely happy’, are more likely to have healthy blood-lipid profiles, even after accounting for other factors such as age, gender, socioeconomic status, and chronic conditions. However, this was not true for Japanese adults.”

    “Our findings underscore the importance of cultural context for understanding links between emotion and health, something that has been largely ignored in the literature,” Yoo adds. “Although some studies have examined cultural differences in links between positive emotions and healthy functioning, this work is novel in that it includes biological measures of health and large representative samples from both countries.”

    The fact that positive emotions are conceived of and valued differently across cultures led Yoo and colleagues to wonder whether the health benefits observed in tandem with positive emotions might be specific to Western populations.

    In American cultures, experiencing positive emotions is seen as desirable and is even encouraged via socialization. But in East Asian cultures, people commonly view positive emotions as having dark sides — they are fleeting, may attract unnecessary attention from others, and can be a distraction from focusing on important tasks,” says Yoo.

    The researchers designed a cross-cultural comparison, examining data from two large representative studies of adults: Midlife in the United States and Midlife in Japan, both funded by the National Institute on Aging. Data included participants’ ratings of how frequently they felt 10 different positive emotions in the previous 30 days and measures of blood lipids, which provided objective data on participants’ heart health.

    “Because of the global prevalence of coronary artery disease, blood lipids are considered important indices of biological health in many Western and East Asian countries,” Yoo explains.

    As expected, the data indicated that experiencing frequent positive emotions was associated with healthy lipid profiles for American participants. But there was no evidence of such a link for Japanese participants.

    The differences may be due, in part, to the relationships between positive emotions and BMI in each culture. Higher positive emotions were linked with lower BMI and, in turn, healthier lipid profiles among American participants, but not among Japanese participants.

    “By demonstrating that the cultural variation in the connection between emotional well-being and physical well-being, our research has wide-ranging relevance among those who seek to promote well-being in the communities and the workplace, including clinicians, executives, and policy makers,” Yoo concludes.

    In future work, the researchers will examine longitudinal data to determine whether the evidence suggests a direct causal link between emotions and health. They also hope to identify emotional profiles that may be more relevant or important to health outcomes in East Asian cultures.


  2. Study suggests dog walkers motivated by happiness, not health

    September 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Liverpool press release:

    It appears to be a case of ‘do what makes you happy’ for people who regularly walk their dogs.

    According to new University of Liverpool research, owners are motivated to go dog walking because it makes them feel happy, not because of other health and social benefits.

    In the most in-depth study of dog owner’s perceptions of dog walking to date, 26 interviews were combined with personal written reflections of dog walking experiences.

    The researchers found that while owners may say the reason they go walking is to benefit the dog, the importance of their own improved happiness and wellbeing is clear.

    These feelings of happiness, however, are contingent on the owner believing that their dog is enjoying the walk too. Anything that threatens this, such as behaviour problems, a perception that they have a ‘lazy’ dog, or their dog is too old, reduces their motivation to walk.

    Increased physical activity and social interactions with other dog owners were found to be secondary bonuses but were rarely motivating.

    Study lead Dr Carri Westgarth, a research fellow at the University of Liverpool, said: “The factors that motivate dog walking are extremely complex, yet we know they can strongly motivate human health behaviour.”

    “It is crucial to understand why owners walk their dogs if we are to be able to effectively promote owners to walk their dogs more.”

    With more than eight million dogs in households across the UK, dog walking is a popular everyday activity. Dog owners are generally more physically active than non-owners, yet some rarely walk with their dog at all.

    An owner briskly walking their dog for at least 30 minutes each day easily exceeds the 150 minutes recommended minimum physical activity per week. If all dog owners did this it would dramatically boost population levels of physical activity.

    Dr Westgarth added: “It’s clear from our findings that dog walking is used to meet the emotional needs of the owner as well as the needs of the dog. This may explain why pilot dog walking interventions with messages focused on health or social benefits have not been particularly successful.

    Possible key points for future interventions to increase dog walking are to promote how it may increase the dogs, and thus the owner’s, happiness.”


  3. Study finds secret to thriving

    by Ashley

    From the University of Portsmouth press release:

    What it takes to thrive, rather than merely survive, could be as simple as feeling good about life and yourself and being good at something, according to new research.

    From a teenager studying for their exams to an employee succeeding at work, thriving can be seen at all ages and across all cultures.

    Until now and despite plenty of theories, there has been no agreement on what makes a person thrive or on how people can try and ensure they do.

    Dr Daniel Brown, a sport and exercise scientist at the University of Portsmouth, has pulled together all the research on what makes people thrive, from studies of babies and teenagers, to studies of artists, sportspeople, employees and the elderly, and has come up with the first definitive catch-all.

    He said: “Thriving is a word most people would be glad to hear themselves described as, but which science hasn’t really managed to consistently classify and describe until now.

    “It appears to come down to an individual experiencing a sense of development, of getting better at something, and succeeding at mastering something.

    “In the simplest terms, what underpins it is feeling good about life and yourself and being good at something.”

    The study outlines the ‘shopping list’ underlying Dr Brown’s simple definition. To thrive doesn’t need all the components, but suggests a combination of some from each of the two following lists may help

    A: Is:

    • optimistic,
    • spiritual or religious,
    • motivated,
    • proactive,
    • someone who enjoys learning,
    • flexible,
    • adaptable,
    • socially competent,
    • believes in self/has self-esteem.

    B: Has:

    • opportunity,
    • employer/family/other support,
    • challenges and difficulties are at manageable level,
    • environment is calm,
    • is given a high degree of autonomy,
    • is trusted as competent.

    Research has established that though thriving is similar to resilience, prospering or growth, it stands alone.

    Thriving has been examined at various stages of human life and has at times been described as vitality, learning, mental toughness, focus, or combinations of these and other qualities. It has also been examined in various contexts, including in the military, in health and in child development.

    “Since the end of the 20th century, there has been a quest in science to better understand human fulfilment and thriving, there’s been a shift towards wanting to understand how humans can function as highly as possible,” said Dr Brown.

    “Part of the reason for a lack of consensus is the research so far has been narrowly focused. Some have studied what makes babies thrive, others have examined what makes some employees thrive and others not, and so on. By setting out a clear definition, I hope this helps set a course for future research.”

    Dr Brown’s research makes six recommendations for future research, including the need for close examination of what enables thriving, and whether thriving has any lasting or cumulative effect on individuals.

    He carried out the research as part of his PhD studies at the University of Bath. His primary supervisor, Dr Rachel Arnold, an expert in the psychology of performance excellence, is a co-author of the paper.

    The study is published in European Psychologist.


  4. Secret to happiness may include more unpleasant emotions

    August 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Psychological Association press release:

    People may be happier when they feel the emotions they desire, even if those emotions are unpleasant, such as anger or hatred, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

    “Happiness is more than simply feeling pleasure and avoiding pain. Happiness is about having experiences that are meaningful and valuable, including emotions that you think are the right ones to have,” said lead researcher Maya Tamir, PhD, a psychology professor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “All emotions can be positive in some contexts and negative in others, regardless of whether they are pleasant or unpleasant.”

    The cross-cultural study included 2,324 university students in eight countries: the United States, Brazil, China, Germany, Ghana, Israel, Poland and Singapore. The research, which was published online in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, is the first study to find this relationship between happiness and experiencing desired emotions, even when those emotions are unpleasant, Tamir said.

    Participants generally wanted to experience more pleasant emotions and fewer unpleasant emotions than they felt in their lives, but that wasn’t always the case. Interestingly, 11 percent of the participants wanted to feel fewer transcendent emotions, such as love and empathy, than they experienced in daily life, and 10 percent wanted to feel more unpleasant emotions, such as anger or hatred. There was only a small overlap between those groups.

    For example, someone who feels no anger when reading about child abuse might think she should be angrier about the plight of abused children, so she wants to feel more anger than she actually does in that moment, Tamir said. A woman who wants to leave an abusive partner but isn’t willing to do so may be happier if she loved him less, Tamir said.

    Participants were surveyed about the emotions they desired and the emotions they actually felt in their lives. They also rated their life satisfaction and depressive symptoms. Across cultures in the study, participants who experienced more of the emotions that they desired reported greater life satisfaction and fewer depressive symptoms, regardless of whether those desired emotions were pleasant or unpleasant. Further research is needed, however, to test whether feeling desired emotions truly influences happiness or is merely associated with it, Tamir said.

    The study assessed only one category of unpleasant emotions known as negative self-enhancing emotions, which includes hatred, hostility, anger and contempt. Future research could test other unpleasant emotions, such as fear, guilt, sadness or shame, Tamir said. Pleasant emotions that were examined in the study included empathy, love, trust, passion, contentment and excitement. Prior research has shown that the emotions that people desire are linked to their values and cultural norms, but those links weren’t directly examined in this research.

    The study may shed some light on the unrealistic expectations that many people have about their own feelings, Tamir said.

    “People want to feel very good all the time in Western cultures, especially in the United States,” Tamir said.”Even if they feel good most of the time, they may still think that they should feel even better, which might make them less happy overall.”


  5. To pick a great gift, it’s better to give AND receive

    August 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Wisconsin-Madison press release:

    If it’s the thought that makes a gift count, here’s a thought that can make your gift count extra: Get a little something for yourself.

    Research published this month in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin by Evan Polman, marketing professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Sam Maglio, marketing professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough, shows that gift recipients are happier with a present when the giver got themselves the same present.

    Polman and Maglio call it “companionizing.”

    The fact that a gift is shared with the giver makes it a better gift in the eyes of the receiver,” Polman says. “They like a companionized gift more, and they even feel closer to the giver.”

    Hundreds of participants in the study rated how likable, thoughtful and considerate they would find each of a long list of gifts — or how likable, thoughtful and considerate the gifts would be if the attached card included a message like, “I hope you like the gift. I got myself the same one too!”

    Scores went up for gifts — such as staplers, umbrellas, wool socks and headphones — that also found a home with the giver.

    “We were inspired originally by things like friendship bracelets, where two people would have two things that kind of make up a whole,” Polman says.

    But experiments within their study show the giver and receiver don’t have to be close friends or relatives for the companionization effect to work. That’s particularly helpful for givers who don’t know their recipients well, Polman says, as lack of familiarity may make it even harder to pick a great gift.

    Depth of relationship doesn’t make a difference, but there are a few rules. It’s not enough for the giver to simply say, “I’ve heard this is a good stapler. It gets great reviews online.” And the boost isn’t the same if the giver acquired their own stapler months ago. The selection has to come at the same time.

    After all, companionization is about togetherness.

    “There’s an inexorable link between similarity and liking. The more similar you are to someone, typically the more you like them,” Polman says. “When you receive a gift that someone has also bought for themselves, you feel more like them. That leads you to like your gift more.”

    Any way to make a gift better is helpful, especially from the perspective of economists. Some take a dim view of gifts, because they represent wasted resources.

    “A lot of people end up receiving gifts they don’t especially like. So, they either discard them or sell them — and they sell them for less than they’re worth, typically,” Polman says. “There’s a loss involved in gift-giving, because people are likely to devalue a gift.”

    One way to mitigate that loss is to give something fungible, like cash. But money doesn’t feel right to many people, Polman says, and companionization may offer an alternative.

    “If you are faced with buying a gift for somebody, and you’re uncertain if they’re going to like it, maybe you instead find something you would like for yourself,” he says. “Then buy the recipient the same thing, and communicate the companionizing. It makes the gift more special, like the giver is trying to communicate something: ‘I like this, and I like you. So maybe you’ll like what I like.'”


  6. Study suggests using money to buy time linked to increased happiness

    August 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of British Columbia press release:

    New research is challenging the age-old adage that money can’t buy happiness.

    The study, led by researchers at the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School, suggests that using money to buy free time — such as paying to delegate household chores like cleaning and cooking — is linked to greater life satisfaction.

    “People who hire a housecleaner or pay the kid next door to mow the lawn might feel like they’re being lazy,” said study lead author Ashley Whillans, assistant professor at Harvard Business School who carried out the research as a PhD candidate in the UBC department of psychology. “But our results suggest that buying time has similar benefits for happiness as having more money.”

    The researchers surveyed more than 6,000 adults in the United States, Denmark, Canada and the Netherlands. Respondents were asked if and how much they spent each month to buy themselves free time. They also rated their life satisfaction, and answered questions about feelings of time stress.

    Respondents who spent money on time saving purchases reported greater life satisfaction. The effect held up even after controlling for income.

    “The benefits of buying time aren’t just for wealthy people,” said UBC psychology professor and the study’s senior author Elizabeth Dunn. “We thought the effects might only hold up for people with quite a bit of disposable income, but to our surprise, we found the same effects across the income spectrum.”

    To test whether buying time actually causes greater happiness, the researchers also conducted a field experiment. Sixty adults were randomly assigned to spend $40 on a time saving purchase on one weekend, and $40 on a material purchase on another weekend. The results revealed that people felt happier when they spent money on a time saving purchase than on a material purchase.

    Despite the benefits, the researchers were surprised to discover how few people choose to spend their money on time saving purchases in daily life. Even in a sample of 850 millionaires who were surveyed, almost half reported spending no money outsourcing disliked tasks. A survey of 98 working adults asking how they would spend a windfall of $40 also revealed that only two per cent would use it in a way that saved them time.

    “Although buying time can serve as a buffer against the time pressures of daily life, few people are doing it even when they can afford it,” said Dunn. “Lots of research has shown that people benefit from buying their way into pleasant experiences, but our research suggests people should also consider buying their way out of unpleasant experiences.”


  7. Researchers crack the smile, describing three types by muscle movement

    August 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Wisconsin-Madison press release:

    The smile may be the most common and flexible expression, used to reveal some emotions, cover others and manage social interactions that have kept communities secure and organized for millennia.

    But how do we tell one kind of smile from another?

    “When distinguishing among smiles, both scientists and laypeople have tended to focus on true and false smiles. The belief is that if you smile when you’re not happy, the smile is false,” says Paula Niedenthal, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “But people smile in many different circumstances and during many emotional states. So asserting that only smiles that result from states of happiness are ‘true’ smiles limits our understanding of this important facial expression.”

    Niedenthal and colleagues from Cardiff University and the University of Glasgow published a set of experiments that seek to expand our understanding of the human smile this week in the journal Psychological Science, showing three distinct, reliably recognized expressions — smiles of reward, affiliation and dominance — and describing the facial muscle combinations that make them.

    Each smile hinges on an anatomical feature known as the zygomaticus major, straps of facial muscle below the cheekbones that pull up the corners of the mouth. But it’s not the only muscle at work.

    Participants in the study looked at thousands of computer-generated expressions with random combinations of facial muscles activated — with one exception.

    “We varied everything that could be varied in an expression, but our stimuli included some action from the smile muscle, the zygomaticus,” says Magdalena Rychlowska, a postdoctoral researcher at Cardiff. “We asked participants to tell us when they see a reward or affiliative or a dominance smile, and when the expression is not a smile.”

    The researchers turned their participant-sorted smiles back on two more sets of observers, checking recognition and social messages until they had recipes for each smile.

    For example, a reward smile — “probably the most intuitive,” Niedenthal says, “the kind of smile you would use with a baby, so he will smile back or do things you like” — is a symmetrical hoist of zygomaticus muscles plus a dash of eyebrow lift and some sharp lip pulling.

    Affiliative smiles — used to communicate tolerance, acknowledgment, or a bond, and show that you’re not a threat — come with a similar symmetrical upturn to the mouth, but spread wider and thinner with pressed lips and no exposed teeth.

    Dominance smiles are used to signify status and manage social hierarchies. They dispense with the symmetry, pairing a bit of lopsided sneer with the raised brows and lifted cheeks typically associated with expressing enjoyment.

    “This facial expression has evolved to solve basic tasks of human living in social groups: Thanks, I like this. Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you. Hey, I’m in charge here,” Niedenthal says. “There are so many words people use to describe different smiles, but we see them as describing subtypes of a reward situation or an affiliative situation or a situation of negotiating hierarchy and having disdain for someone else.”

    With precise physical descriptions of smile types, researchers can better classify subtypes and study the use and effects of smiles in pivotal human interactions.

    “We now know which movements we should look for when we describe smiles from real life,” says Rychlowska. “We can treat smiles as a set of mathematical parameters, create models of people using different types of smiles, and use them in new studies.”

    Rychlowska and collaborators are already digging into the way affiliative and dominance smiles can shift the outcome of games and negotiations. Niedenthal is working with surgeons who repair and reconstruct facial bones and muscles.

    “They may have to make choices that will affect a patient’s expression for the rest of their life,” Niedenthal says. “It’s useful for them to know how different kinds of smiles are used in the world, and which muscles are involved in making them.”

    Better definitions of smile types should also help people navigate intercultural communication. Previous research has shown Niedenthal that while the types of smiles used vary from country to country, there is plenty of variation in how often they are used.

    “Americans smile so much that people from other countries are taught to smile more when they interact with us,” she says. “The problem is, they’re almost always taught one kind of smile, and that can cause confusion. “Simply teaching people about the existence of different types of ‘true’ smiles can help people pay more attention and avoid some of those misunderstandings.”


  8. Generous people live happier lives

    July 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Zürich press release:

    Generosity makes people happier, even if they are only a little generous. People who act solely out of self-interest are less happy. Merely promising to be more generous is enough to trigger a change in our brains that makes us happier. This is what UZH neuroeconomists found in a recent study.

    What some have been aware of for a long time, others find hard to believe: Those who are concerned about the well-being of their fellow human beings are happier than those who focus only on their own advancement. Doing something nice for another person gives many people a pleasant feeling that behavioral economists call a warm glow. In collaboration with international researchers, Philippe Tobler and Ernst Fehr from the Department of Economics at the University of Zurich investigated how brain areas communicate to produce this feeling. The results provide insight into the interplay between altruism and happiness.

    Even a little generosity makes people happier

    In their experiments, the researchers found that people who behaved generously were happier afterwards than those who behaved more selfishly. However, the amount of generosity did not influence the increase in contentment. “You don’t need to become a self-sacrificing martyr to feel happier. Just being a little more generous will suffice,” says Philippe Tobler.

    Before the experiment started, some of the study participants had verbally committed to behaving generously towards other people. This group was willing to accept higher costs in order to do something nice for someone else. They also considered themselves happier after their generous behavior (but not beforehand) than the control group, who had committed to behaving generously toward themselves.

    Intent alone suffices to cause neural changes

    While the study participants were making their decision to behave or not to behave generously, the researchers examined activity in three areas of the participants’ brains: in the temporoparietal junction (where prosocial behavior and generosity are processed), in the ventral striatum (which is associated with happiness), and in the orbitofrontal cortex (where we weigh the pros and cons during decision-making processes). These three brain areas interacted differently, depending on whether the study participants had committed to generosity or selfishness.

    Simply promising to behave generously activated the altruistic area of the brain and intensified the interaction between this area and the area associated with happiness. “It is remarkable that intent alone generates a neural change before the action is actually implemented,” says Tobler.

    Benefit from the promise to behave generously

    “Promising to behave generously could be used as a strategy to reinforce the desired behavior, on the one hand, and to feel happier, on the other,” says Tobler. His co-author Soyoung Park adds: “There are still some open questions, such as: Can communication between these brain regions be trained and strengthened? If so, how? And, does the effect last when it is used deliberately, that is, if a person only behaves generously in order to feel happier?”

    About the experiment

    At the beginning of the experiment, the 50 participants were promised a sum of money that they would receive in the next few weeks and were supposed to spend. Half of the study participants committed to spending the money on someone they knew (experimental group, promise of generosity), while the other half committed to spending the money on themselves (control group).

    Subsequently, all of the study participants made a series of decisions concerning generous behavior, namely, whether to giving somebody who is close to them a gift of money. The size of the gift and the cost thereof varied: One could, for example, give the other person five francs at a cost of two francs. Or give twenty francs at a cost of fifteen. While the study participants were making these decisions, the researchers measured activity in three brain areas: in the temporoparietal junction, where prosocial behavior and generosity are processed; in the ventral striatum, which is associated with happiness; and in the orbitofrontal cortex, where we weigh the pros and cons during decision-making processes. The participants were asked about their happiness before and after the experiment.


  9. Study suggests well-being soars amongst mothers who get to choose whether to work

    July 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Arizona State University press release:

    The center of a mother’s life tends to be her children and her family, but if mom is unhappy about staying home with the kids or about working outside the home then she (and anyone close to her) may suffer, according to new research from Arizona State University.

    In “What women want: Employment preference and adjustment among mothers,” published in the early on-line edition of the Journal of Family and Economic Issues, researchers studied more than 2,000 mostly well-educated mothers and considered their well-being in terms of not just whether they worked outside of the home, but also if they wanted to work or not.

    The study showed that the best adjusted mothers were the ones who pursued the lifestyle they wanted.

    “It’s not about simply being employed versus being a stay-at-home mom that makes the difference,” said Suniya Luthar, an ASU Foundation professor of psychology and leader of the research group. “We found that women who were living in synch with their own preference exhibited overall positive adjustment. Conversely, the ‘misaligned moms’ experienced considerable distress and unhappiness.”

    In the study, the researchers examined the well-being of mothers in four groups: Those who were employed and wanting to work (Work-Want Work); not employed and not wanting work (Home-Want Home); employed because they need the money (Work-For Money); and not employed but wanting to work (Home-Want Work). Overall, mothers in the first two “aligned” groups reported much better adjustment across multiple indicators than did the second two groups that are “misaligned.”

    Mothers who regretted staying at home consistently fared the worst psychologically, exhibiting lowest levels of fulfillment, highest levels of emptiness and loneliness, and reports of greater child maladjustment and more feelings of rejection toward their children.

    “It makes sense,” said Luthar. “For those women who wanted very much to apply their educational degrees and career skills at work, but for whatever reason needed to stay home, it’s understandable that they’d struggle with feelings of emptiness and lack of fulfillment.”

    The reasons for not working in this group were clarified by Lucia Ciciolla lead author of the article and former ASU student who now is an assistant professor at Oklahoma State University. A third co-author is Alexandra Curlee, an ASU student.

    “When the Home-Want Work group was asked about why they did not pursue work, the most common reason that they gave was the lack of appropriate childcare,” said Ciciolla. “These data are important in showing that there are many mothers who would prefer to work but are unable to with associated ill-effects on psychological and emotional functioning. We believe that for mothers to be successful in both career and parenting roles, there must be practical and structural support (appropriate childcare and flexible hours) that makes it possible.”

    The researchers also examined major factors associated with the well-being of mothers in the four different groups and there was remarkable consistency in what seemed to matter most.

    “Findings across all four groups suggest that feeling emotionally supported is a fundamental need that is universal among mothers, regardless of their employment status,” Ciciolla said. “Unconditional acceptance and authenticity in relationships were consistently found to be important across multiple measures of maternal well-being.”

    In addition, friendship satisfaction emerged as a key factor in promoting life satisfaction and mitigating loneliness for the majority of mothers, and for stay-at-home mothers was also consistently associated with fulfillment. Partner satisfaction was associated with few outcome variables outside of life satisfaction.

    “The reality is that caring for children is emotionally and psychologically challenging work, so it is essential that moms get ‘refueled’ themselves,” Luthar explained. “Feeling emotionally supported and satisfied with friendships is critical for well-being regardless of one’s employment status or preferences on that front. All moms need to be nurtured themselves, and this must happen on an ongoing basis.”


  10. Most people ‘aren’t as happy as their friends’ on social media

    July 4, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Indiana University press release:

    A study led by computer scientists at Indiana University has found that people with the most connections on social media are also happier. This may cause most social media users to not only regard themselves as less popular than their friends but also less happy.

    The recently published study is essentially the first to provide scientific evidence for the feeling many people experience when they log into services like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram: that everyone else looks like they’re having more fun.

    For the purposes of this study, which used publicly available data from Twitter, reciprocal followers were defined as “friends” and users with the most connections were defined as “popular.”

    “This analysis contributes to a growing body of evidence that social media may be harmful to users who ‘overindulge’ in these services since it’s nearly impossible to escape negative comparisons to their friends’ popularity and happiness,” said lead author Johan Bollen, associate professor in the IU School of Informatics and Computing, who advises people to carefully monitor and limit use of these services.

    “Given the magnitude of social media adoption across the globe, understanding the connection between social media use and happiness may well shed light on issues that affect the well-being of billions of people,” he added.

    The study builds upon a phenomenon known as the Friendship Paradox, which finds that most people on a social network have fewer connections on average than their friends, since the most popular users intersect with a higher-than-average number of social circles. The IU-led study is the first to reveal that these more popular users are also happier on average, inflating the overall happiness level of a user’s social circle — an effect the researchers dubbed the “Happiness Paradox.”

    “As far as we’re aware, it’s never been previously shown that social media users are not only less popular than their friends on average but also less happy,” Bollen said. “This study suggests that happiness is correlated with popularity, and also that the majority of people on social networks aren’t as happy as their friends due to this correlation between friendship and popularity.”

    To conduct the analysis, Bollen and colleagues randomly selected 4.8 million Twitter users, then analyzed the group for people who followed one another on the network, creating a social network of about 102,000 users with 2.3 million connections.

    The team then narrowed their focus to individuals with 15 or more “friends” on the network, after which they analyzed the sentiment of these users’ tweets, a common method in computer science and marketing to assess whether digital postings are generally positive or negative in tone. This created a group of 39,110 Twitter users. Users with higher positive sentiment were defined as “happy.”

    A statistical analysis of that final group found with high confidence that 94.3 percent of these users had fewer friends on average than their friends. Significantly, it also found that 58.5 percent of these users weren’t as happy as their friends on average.

    “In other words, a majority of users may feel that they’re less popular than their friends on average,” Bollen said. “They may also have the impression that they’re less happy than their friends on average.”

    The study also found that social media users tend to fall into two groups: happier users with happier friends and unhappier users with unhappier friends. Surprisingly, the unhappier users were still likely to be less happy than their unhappy friends, suggesting they’re more strongly affected by their friends’ unhappiness.

    “Overall, this study finds social media users may experience higher levels of social dissatisfaction and unhappiness due to negative comparison between their and their friends’ happiness and popularity,” Bollen said. “Happy social media users may think their friends are more popular and slightly happier than they are — and unhappy social media users will likely have unhappy friends who still seem happier and more popular than they are on average.”

    The paper, titled “The happiness paradox: your friends are happier than you,” appears in the European Physical Journal Data Science. Additional authors are Guangchen Ruan, doctoral researcher at IU; Bruno Gonçalves of New York University; and Ingrid van de Leemput of Wageningen University, The Netherlands.

    This study was funded in part by the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency.