Happiness and Values

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The relation between values and happiness is controversial. Relativists claim that people will be happy as long as their life is consistent with their values, independent of the nature of their values. Humanists claim that some values are more fundamental and important for all individuals (e.g., Maslow's need hierarchy). To the extent that people's value preferences deviate from those consistent with human nature, they are likely pursue goals that do not lead to happiness, making them less happy.

Empirical Evidence An early review by Veenhoven (1984) found very weak correlations between value preferences and happiness. He also noted that this finding "caused much surprise" (p. 323)

In contrast, a more widely cited cross-sectional study concluded that materialistic values are negatively correlated with happiness (Kasser & Ryan, 1993). Of course, a cross-sectional study cannot prove causality. Thus, it is not clear that material value preferences caused lower happiness in this study. It is equally possible, that a common third variable (e.g., poverty) caused lower happiness and a more materialistic value orientation. Another problem of this study was the use of questionable indicators of happiness (e.g., vitality).

Conclusion Human nature is not universal. People differ in their value preferences and are likely to pursue different goals in their lives. Happiness depends on the achievement of these goals rather than on the nature of these goals.

Directions for Future Research Veenhoven (1984) points out that values influence behaviors that aim to increase happiness in the future. Thus, even a negative correlations between a specific value (e.g., materialistic values) and current happiness would not necessarily show that these values have negative effects on happiness. It would be more important to examine longitudinally whether the pursuit of some values leads to lower or higher happiness in the future.

References Veenhoven, R. (1984). Conditions of happiness. Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Company. [excellent book on happiness] Kasser T. & Ryan, R.M. (1993). A dark side of the American dream: Correlates of financial success as a central life aspiration. �Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 410-422.

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