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SNU Research on the Relationship Between Optimism and Happiness

  • October 17, 2016
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Professor CHOI Inn Cheol, Director of SNU Center for Happiness Studies, is teaching prisoners in a jail.
Professor CHOI Inn Cheol, Director of SNU Center for Happiness Studies, is teaching prisoners in a jail.

Is a happy person optimistic? Or is an optimistic person happy? To seek the answers, the SNU Center for Happiness Studies conducted a 3-year study involving 270 SNU students. Their results were published in the Korean Psychological Association journal on October 17.

From 2010 to 2012, the research team asked 270 students in three rounds (three separate occasions over the span of three years) about their level of optimism, satisfaction with their lives, and positive and negative emotional experiences.

In measuring happiness, the researchers focused on the general, day-to-day emotional experiences of the students and not on their spur-of-the-moment emotional variations.

They defined optimism as the tendency to consider negative experiences as temporary, limited to a particular situation, unrelated to themselves, and attributed mainly to external factors. It is also the belief that good things will happen to them in the future.

The term “subjective well-being” was used to replace the concept of “happiness.”

To discover the causal relationship between the two, the research was conducted from both perspectives: how optimism affects subjective well-being and vice versa. They measured the increase or decrease in degree of subjective well-being between each round, from the first to the second, and the second to the third. The study revealed that the differences in amount of optimism could predict the value of subjective well-being. But when tested the other way around, subjective well-being could not predict the amount of optimism.

The conclusion was that while optimism could be a cause of happiness, happiness could not be a cause of optimism.

“This is the first domestic empirical research that proves the causal relationship between optimism and happiness,” the research team reported. “This research can be used in programs that work with increasing optimism among citizens.”

Written by Ho Jung Annie Hwang, SNU English Editor,
Reviewed by Professor Travis Smith, Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations,

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