Psychology Professor Ulrich Schimmack, of the University of Toronto at Mississauga, is lead author of an article published in the August issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, which adds to our scientific understanding of happiness. Past research has shown that personality traits such as extraversion and neuroticism are the strongest predictors of happiness. Schimmack's research goes one step beyond, to look at the importance of specific aspects of those traits - anger, anxiety and depression in the case of neuroticism, and, in the case of extraversion, a disposition to be dominant, active, sociable and cheerful.
"On the negative side, wouldn't you have thought that depressed is bad but depressed and anxious is worse?" says Schimmack. "Actually, all that matters is how depressed you are, and after that, anxiety doesn't seem to influence your level of life satisfaction." People who are depressed are more likely than others to be anxious as well, but anxiety is a short-term response to a stress or threat and when it is resolved it doesn't enter our assessment of life satisfaction, he says. Schimmack's article summarizes four studies and uses data from a number of sources including a recent survey of 344 students at U of T.
The strong influence of depression shows that a lack of meaning is more detrimental to life satisfaction than stress and worries, Schimmack says. In addition, being the life of the party or the most successful person in the room doesn't guarantee happiness, he says - far more important is a disposition to be cheerful.