Dr. Happy to tout well being

Sruthi Yejju
Dr. Edward Diener, the Joseph R. Smiley Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois, will address Eureka College graduates at 10:30 a.m. Saturday during commencement. Diener's research focuses on the measurement of well-being; temperament and personality influences on well-being; theories of well-being; income and well-being; and cultural influences on well-being. He is nicknamed "Dr. Happy."

Eureka College announced Dr. Edward Diener, an internationally renowned researcher in the field of well-being will give the commencement address at Eureka College at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in Rinker Outdoor Amphitheater.

Diener is the Joseph R. Smiley Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois. He has been a faculty member at the University of Illinois for the past 34 years.

Diener is the founding editor of Perspectives on Psychological Science. Diener has more than 260 publications, with about 200 being in the area of the psychology of well-being.

Diener is listed as one of the most highly cited psychologists by the Institute of Scientific Information, with more than 15,000 citations to his credit. He won the Distinguished Researcher Award from the International Society of Quality of Life Studies, the first Gallup Academic Leadership Award, and the Jack Block Award for Personality Psychology. With more than 50 publications he is the most published author in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Diener's research focuses on the measurement of well-being; temperament and personality influences on well-being; theories of well-being; income and well-being; and cultural influences on well-being. He is also nicknamed as Dr. Happy.

According to Diener, subjective well-being refers to all of the various types of evaluations, both positive and negative, that people make of their lives. He said it includes reflective cognitive evaluations, such as life satisfaction and work satisfaction, interest and engagement, and affective reactions to life events, such as joy and sadness.

Thus, Diener says, subjective well-being is an umbrella term for the different valuations people make regarding their lives, the events happening to them, their bodies and minds, and the circumstances in which they live.

He further states that although well-being and ill-being are “subjective” in the sense that they occur within a person’s experience, manifestations of subjective well-being and ill-being can be observed objectively in verbal and nonverbal behavior, actions, biology, attention and memory. The term well-being is often used instead of subjective well-being because it avoids any suggestion that there is something arbitrary or unknowable about the concepts involved.

Q&A

What are you going to talk about at the commencement address at Eureka College?  

I will talk briefly about what a wonderful college Eureka is, and how grateful the students should be for having gone there.

Then I will tell them about the importance of subjective well-being in life — how it leads to better health and longevity, better social relationships, and often even to better pay.

So, happiness is not a luxury, but a necessity.

Then I will tell them a couple of things about the predictors of happiness.

I will mention money, that everyone focuses on, and say that having enough is important.

But materialism is bad when it makes people seek money to the detriment of other important factors in their lives, such as close social relationships.  

And I will tell them that social support is as much about helping others as it is about being able to rely on for others help —

and evidence shows this.  

I will tell the graduates, too, about the importance of keeping a generally positive attitude, emphasizing things such as gratitude.

Your latest book in 2010 is “International Differences in Well-Being.”Can you tell us something about it?

I had about five books come out in the last two years.

One I  wrote with my son, which is the one most meant for readers who are not scholars — “Happiness: Unlocking The Mysteries of Psychological Wealth.

My son and I had great fun writing this book together.

He and our twins, and my wife, all have PhDs in psych, so there are five of us.

The second set of books, three in all, is the collected works of Ed Diener — three volumes of my most important scientific publications.

The second was the “Well-being for Public Policy” book, which is about how nations need to measure, in addition to economic statistics, data on well-being.

The international book is edited and has articles mostly about international differences in income and well-being. 

For example, I have an article showing that income is much more important to life satisfaction, and not nearly as important to the enjoyment of life.

You use scales to measure the well-being of people. Do these “physical” techniques do justice to the complicated emotions that people experience?

Our measures do pretty well — a “B” — about as good as economic measures.

Just as income gives a pretty good idea how well materially a person lives, but does not take into account how he or she spends the money, the cost of living where they live, etc, our measures do pretty well.

They give a global picture that has been shown to be valid.

At the same time they, of course, oversimplify a bit, as all measures do.

There are always intricacies that are not captured.

What are you working on/researching right now?

Right now we are spending a lot of time studying the Gallup World Poll, because I am a senior scientist for Gallup and have access to their data.

For the first time there is a representative sample of the world — 155 nations.

We are examining social support around the globe, income and well-being in rich and poor nations, and religiosity and well-being around the world.

In your opinion, how does the U.S. fare in terms of well-being/happiness compared to the rest of the world?

The U.S. often ranks about number 10 or 12 in the list of 155 nations, in terms of life satisfaction.

The U.S. is wealthy, and also democratic.

The northern European nations are higher than the USA in part because the poor there are better off, and in part because of high social capital — they trust each other and have low corruption.

The Gallup World Poll asks if you lost your wallet, would your neighbor return it? A police officer? A stranger?

In the corrupt countries even your neighbor is seen as being unlikely to return it, and often these nations are very poor.

In Denmark, it is thought that even strangers will return your wallet .