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Positive psychology is concerned with enhancing well-being and fulfillment, rather than fixing that which is awry. Whereas conventional psychology is concerned with mental disorders, positive psychology uses empirical methods to study satisfaction and happiness, and apply the results in improving people’s lives. However, the distinction between positive psychology and conventional psychology should not blind scholars, researchers and practitioners to the possible relationship between mental illnesses and happiness. It has been observed that mental disorders and happiness are not mutually exclusive: sadists will experience happiness at what may be disturbing or distressing to others. Similarly, there may be a relationship between happiness and personality. Further relationships could be explored, for example the relationship between physiology, neurology and happiness. Positive psychology cannot, therefore, be isolated from the rest of psychology.
In a paper titled ‘Is it possible to be too happy? Happiness, Personality and psychopathology’, the researchers use empirical methods to explore the relationships between happiness, mental disorders and personality. The researchers used two happiness scales and two questionnaires to test and measure the happiness levels, personality and mental disorders of a sample of 321 people of both sexes. The study concurs with previous studies that analyzed the relationship between personality and happiness, but provides no lconclusive evidence for the relationship between personality disorders and happiness.
The participants of the study had an average age of 24.2 years. Such a young mean age calls the soundness of the sample to question. If the mean age differs from the mean age of the population by a big margin, this limits the number of deductions that could be made from the study. One could argue that the results of the study could only have relevance based on an age group or geographically limited to specific areas. In addition, 45% of the participants consisted of university students. 80% 0f the students were also psychology students. Different groups of people might have markedly different ways of introspecting and reporting their psychological states. The results of the study could, therefore, be biased due to a sample that is not appropriate. To counter these arguments, one could simply perform the study multiple times in varied populations and analyze that instead.
Diener’s threshold hypothesis proposes that there is a distinction between optimum happiness and maximum happiness. Diener bases his hypothesis on extensive empirical results. Optimum happiness is around 8 points on a scale from 0 to 10. The researchers conclude that the results of their study do not confirm Diener’s threshold hypothesis, which is indeed true. However, the study was not properly designed to affirm or refute Diener’s hypothesis. The study explores the relationship between personality, mental disorders and happiness. The results of the happiness scales might be used for that purpose, but the study was limited in scope and extent. The conclusion is therefore weak and out of place in the paper.
Diener’s hypothesis is based on the point at which the majority of people report to feel “happy”. That point happens to be 8 out of ten. The researchers analyse the factors that affect happiness either positively or negatively. They then use these to conclude that one cannot be “too happy”. It is not clear whether “too happy” is used in the context of Diener’s scale. The usage of the term “too happy” is not explained and one is left to try and speculate its use. If one assumes “too happy” means extreme happiness that may be detrimental to the individual, there is no evidence (yet) linking people who report a 10 happiness point to negative adaptability in society.
Seligman’s hypothesis assumes that happiness has no limits. The researchers conclude that their findings do not confirm Seligman’s supposition. The conclusion, once again, is inappropriate because the study itself assumes that there is a limit in happiness in the happiness scales it uses. The scales used were Diener’s subjective well-being and happiness scale and the Oxford Happiness scale. These scales are designed in a minimum-maximum fashion, in which one is asked to approximate their level of happiness, assuming that 100% is the maximum happiness they can imagine. Some variations are designed such that the individual only gives attributes or descriptions which the researcher will then use to approximate the individual’s happiness level. Happiness is also conceptualized as a process rather than an emotional state.
The results of the study that neuroticism has a negative effect on happiness while extraversion has a positive effect on happiness concur with recent studies, such as those done by Diener. Intuitively, one would expect this to be the case, but empirical evidence should back up such claims. Openness also has a positive effect on extraversion, but the effect is less intense than that of extraversion. Agreeableness has a positive effect while conscientiousness varied. Conscientiousness generally shows positive effect but the significance is varied across different happiness scales. Conscientiousness is particularly complex to define and has the potential of being ambiguous.
The study finds less conclusive evidence of relationships between psychological disorders and happiness. However, the study suggests a negative relationship between anxiety-neuroticism and happiness. The relationship between mental disorders and happiness is unclear and indefinite. The researchers had no hypothesis on the relationship and only offer suggestions that are not empirically based, such as that anxiety-neuroticism would have a negative effect on happiness. Personality disorders need more than just questionnaires to be detected or diagnosed; one cannot rely on introspective reporting alone.
A study of this kind is bound to face several challenges, ranging from an overly subjective method of data collection from individuals to inadequate data to establish any relationship (in the case of the personality disorders). The study of happiness should rely less on subjective means of data collection and incorporate physiology and neurology. Otherwise, positive psychology remains a paradigm; an ideology. The researchers assert that positive psychology is not a paradigm, but do not describe what it is. They note that obtaining happiness is its main objective. One would wonder if it is impossible to define happiness in more empirical terms than otherwise used in the study. Although positive psychology incorporates quantitative methods, these are in fact only statistical. Statistical data can be used to analyze apparent relationships between phenomena, but a more robust framework needs to be established in order to come up with theories that explain happiness and the factors that affect it.
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