The Effect of Recalling a Positive Influence on Well-Being

Koo, Minkyung, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Oishi, Shigehiro, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

The present research aims to investigate a) the effect of thinking about a friend's positive influence on one's personal well-being, b) the individual differences in this effect, and c) the underlying psychological mechanisms. Study 1 found that participants who wrote about how a friend influenced them to change in a positive way exhibited higher levels of well - being than those who did not. Study 2 found that the benefit of thinking about a friend's influence was moderated by the important aspects of self and participants' personal histories of residential mobility. Study 3 found that the effect of thinking about a positive influence was also moderated by a temporarily manipulated mindset of mobility or stability. The implications of the findings for the literature of self, culture, and wellbeing will be discussed. Research in the field of subjective well-being has sought to answer a wide range of questions. These questions have included what is happiness (Diener, 1984), who is happy (e.g., Tellegen et al., 1988; Diener & Lucas, 1999; Diener, Suh, Lucas, & Smith, 1999), what makes people happy (e.g., Oishi, Diener, Lucas, & Suh, l999a), and whether it is good to be happy (e.g., Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005a; Oishi, Diener, & Lucas, 2007a). Research has shown that being happy is not only a desirable state that people pursue (Diener, 2000; King & Napa, 1998; Scollon & King, 2004), but is also beneficial in various life domains (e.g., Lyubomirsky et al., 2005; Oishi et al., 2007a). For example, happy people are more likely to live longer and be healthier, earn a higher income, and maintain better social relationships compared to less happy people. Happiness is beneficial not only at the individual level but also at the societal level, which means that happy people are more likely to be good citizens, by, for example, actively volunteering (for a review, see Lyubomirsky et al., 2005). Because happiness is so beneficial, and people desire to become happier, it is important to understand the ways in which people can increase their happiness. Indeed, researchers have investigated different ways of increasing happiness using various methods and techniques including observations, surveys, field studies, lab experiments, and longitudinal studies. Although the question of becoming happier has been of interest among philosophers from as long ago as in the time of Aristotle, most empirical scientific research on this subject has been conducted during the last few decades. In the l960's, for example, researchers found that older adults became happier when they reflected on their lives (Butler, 1963; Coleman, 1974). Further, Fordyce (1977; 1983) assessed an intervention program that was designed to increase happiness by guiding its participants to adopt the characteristics of happy people. Similarly, researchers have tried to increase people's happiness through engaging in group discussions and reciting positive statements (Lichter, Haye, & Kammann, 1980). Although in the 1990's several studies were conducted to investigate different ways of increasing happiness (e. g., Fava, 1999; Seligman, Reivich, Jaycox, & Gillham, 1995), more active research has not been conducted until recently. There are several reasons that research in this area has been delayed. First of all, it was not until the 1980's that psychologists began to study happiness scientifically in a non - clinical setting (Diener, 1984). Before that time, researchers focused primarily on identifying diverse determinants, consequences, and treatments of mental disorders and negative emotional states rather than finding ways to increase one's happiness (Seligman & Csikszentrnihalyi, 2000). Another reason for the slow progress in this area of research is the set - point theory, which asserts that one's happiness is genetically determined and cannot easily be changed no matter the circumstances (e.g., Lykken & Tellegen, 1996; Tellegen et al., 1988). Similarly, as the hedonic-treadmill model (Brickman & Campbell, 1971) has been widely accepted, efforts to increase one's happiness have been considered useless because individuals adapt to whatever life events and circumstances they are faced with and ultimately their well - being stabilizes at their baseline level (see also Frederick & Loewenstein, 1999; Headey & Wearing, 1989; Suh, Diener, & Fujita, 1996; Wilson & Gilbert, 2008). Even people who had experienced major life changes were not found to be very different in their happiness when compared to those who had not experienced similar events. For example, research showed that paraplegics were not as unhappy as people expected, and lottery winners were not as happy as participants in the control group due to hedonic adaptation (Brickman, Coates, & Janoff-Bulman, 1978). The central idea of adaptation theory has gained support from numerous empirical studies showing that external conditions, such as income and health, are not influential in determining individualsā€˜ happiness (Diener, Sandvik, Seidlitz, & Diener, 1993; Okun & George, 1984). However, several studies have recently challenged the hedonic-adaptation model, which demonstrates that the magnitude, speed, and direction of the adaptation differ significantly across individuals (Diener, Lucas, & Scollon, 2006; Lucas, 2007b). For example, longitudinal studies have provided evidence to suggest that although the baseline well~being of the majority of individuals is stable over time, some individualsā€˜ long-term happiness levels can be changed (Fujita & Diener, 2005). Furthermore, the degree of adaptation also differs according to the types of life events. For example, after experiencing major life events such as loss of one's spouse (Lucas, Clark, Georgellis, & Diener, 2003), disability (Dijkers, 1997; Lucas, 2007a), divorce (Lucas, 2005), and loss of employment (Lucas, Clark, Georgellis, & Diener, 2004), people's well - being has not been found to return to baseline levels. Even the findings of studies on paraplegics by Brickman et al. (1978) have been reinterpreted. Paraplegics were significantly less happy than the control group although they were still above the neutral state, and thus were happier than most people had predicted (Lucas, 2007b). As an increasing amount of research has been conducted challenging the set - point theory of happiness and suggesting possibilities for changing the level of one's happiness, researchers have begun to pay more attention to ways of increasing happiness. The last few years, especially, have seen the rebirth of research on happiness interventions (e.g., Burton & King, 2004, 2008; Emmons & McCullough, 2003; Froh, Sefick, & Emmons, 2008; Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, & Schkade, 2005b; Lyubomirsky, Sousa, & Dickerhoof, 2006; Otake, Shirnai, Tanaka-Matsurni, Otsui, & Fredrickson, 2006; Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005). These interventions include Writing a journal in which people describe life events for which they feel grateful (Emmons & McCullough, 2003), practicing forgiveness (McCullough, Pargament, & Thorcsen, 2000), thinking about intensely positive experiences (Burton & King, 2004), performing random acts of kindness (Lyubornirsky et al., 2005b), writing a letter of gratitude to someone (Seligman et al., 2005), receiving happiness training (Goldwurm, Baruffi, & Colombo, 2003), engaging in productive activities (Baker, Cahalin, Gerst, & Burr, 2005), and setting and planning for goals (MacLeod, Coates, & Hetherton, 2008). Many past studies that examined ways of increasing people's happiness have incorporated gratitude. For example, in the studies by Ernmons and McCullough (2003), participants were asked to describe several things for which they were grateful with Varying frequency and duration (i.e., every day for two weeks, every day for three weeks, or once a week for nine weeks). People who performed this exercise showed greater physical and psychological well - being than did people who wrote about life hassles and difficulties.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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