The Top 10 Happiness Experts of All Time
As United States citizens, regardless of whether we live in Maine or way over in the Hawaiian Islands, each of us is guaranteed the right to pursue our own happiness. The trouble is, most of us have no idea where to even start looking. Only in the past 20 years or so have psychologists and other scientists begun to look hard at this elusive state of being that is happiness. What causes it? Why do seemingly equal people experience very different levels of it? How can we maintain it? While many claim to offer the way to happiness through positive energy or thinking, these 10 names stand out because of their knowledge about happiness grounded in years of scientific research.
Seligman is the father of the scientific study of happiness, or positive psychology. His 2002 bestseller Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment was his clarion call for his fellow psychologists to stop devoting all of their time to people’s problems and looking into what makes them joyful. His views on the subject have evolved to the point he now believes happiness is overrated. His newest book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, lays out his idea that more important than happiness is the personal belief that a person is accomplishing something worthwhile, or flourishing.
This one-time high school dropout set out to be a science fiction writer but found his calling in psychology. He began his career studying “the fundamental attribution error” wherein people ignore outside forces when assessing human behavior. After a series of personal setbacks, he began to investigate how accurate humans are at predicting what events will make us happy. The result was his breakthrough book, Stumbling on Happiness, in which he used cutting-edge research to explain how unskilled all of us are at predicting how we’ll feel next year, next month, or even next week. But he also demonstrated our amazing ability to carry on after events we may have imagined would be the death of us.
For his 25 years of research in the field of positive psychology, this University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign psychologist is known as “Dr. Happiness.” Now president of the International Positive Psychology Association, Diener and Seligman conducted a landmark study of college students in 2002 that found the highest levels of happiest were reported by people with a strong support system of friends and family members. In 2008, Diener and his psychologist son published Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, describing happiness as more of a journey than a destination. He received the American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Scientist Lifetime Career Award in 2012 and continues to be held as a top expert in the field.
Fordyce pioneered a school of thought known as happiness-increase psychology, which teaches that happiness can be taught with a short amount of instruction. He produced a significant scientific paper in 1977 where he laid out 14 methods for people to increase their personal happiness. He followed it with other seminal works in 1983 and 1987, the latter of which laid out his review of 18 years’ worth of the use of the Happiness Measures. More recently, he produced a TV show called A Program to Increase Personal Happiness.
UC Riverside psychology professor and Ph.D. Sonja Lyubomirsky has not been studying happiness very long, but already she is considered a leading authority on the subject. In The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Lyubomirsky drew on many scientific studies to shoot holes in the belief money, possessions, or even marriage will make us happy for long. Instead, her research has found that processes like social comparison, self-evaluation, and personal perception constitute 40% of our possible happiness, with genetics and circumstances determining the rest. Her latest work involves what happens when people begin to take positive experiences for granted.
Seligman has endorsed this Hungarian psychologist as the world’s preeminent positive psychology authority. Formerly the head of the psych department at the University of Chicago and sociology at Lake Forest College, Csikszentmihalyi first made waves in 1990 with his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, which laid out his argument that happiness hinged on doing meaningful work well and staying busy doing it. The book revolutionized the way people think about happiness, presenting a compelling alternative to the “think happy thoughts” school. Csikszentmihalyi has demonstrated that to be happy, instead of being passive and relaxed, people simply need to find difficult activities they can do with skill, and do them more often.
Veenhoven’s curriculum vitae is packed with accomplishments in the study of happiness. There was 1984′s “Conditions of Happiness,” where he sifted the results of 245 studies on happiness. His 1993 paper entitled “Happiness in Nations” perfectly prepared him to serve as director of the World Database of Happiness, an invaluable resource for happiness researchers. At Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands he is emeritus-professor of social conditions for human happiness. He occasionally contributes to journals and discussions on the subject of happiness, drawing on his unparalleled knowledge of happiness within the larger scope of societies and nations.
Before Martin Seligman coined the phrase “positive psychology,” Michael Argyle was working on what he called “subjective well-being” as far back as the mid-’80s. And although some of his ideas have become outdated, Argyle contributed the foundation that many successive researchers built on. He recognized that money and possessions contribute little to happiness, and his belief that a happy marriage was the best source of happiness was a forerunner to the findings that positive relationships are vital to happiness. His 1996 book The Social Psychology of Leisure theorized that “challenging or absorbing” activities, or “serious leisure,” were people’s best chance for long-term happiness, an idea that Mihaly Csikszentmihaly would seize upon in his own work.
Emmons is another expert like Ed Diener who emphasizes the importance of relationships in happiness, but he is also the leading authority on the principle of gratitude. Dr. Emmons leads research at UC Davis into the idea that being grateful is key to being happy, a fact scientists have overlooked but spiritual teachers have long recognized. His 2007 book Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier urged people to “want what they have” and to keep a daily gratitude journal. This area of research has already turned up numerous health benefits besides just feeling happy.
After graduating high in his class at Harvard, Shawn Achor returned to his alma mater for 10 years to rack up teaching awards and become Head Teaching Fellow for Positive Psychology. In 2007 he started Good Think Inc. to study successful people and understand what makes them happy (or unhappy). Now firmly established as one of the top experts in the research of the relationship between happiness and success, he travels the world sharing his insights with CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and schools. The 2011 book Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles That Fuel Success and Performance at Work was the culmination of his years of research, informing the world that the belief that success produces happiness is exactly backwards.