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Dissecting Happiness

Although it might be nice to have piles of money or run with the in crowd, new research confirms that neither of these will provide that universally yearned for feeling of happiness. Rather, things like self-esteem and a sense of closeness with others appear to lead to ultimate satisfaction, according to a report in the February Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

To ascertain which of the 10 basic psychological feelings people find most important, Kennon M. Sheldon, a University of Missouri-Columbia psychologist, and his colleagues conducted three studies of different groups of U.S. college students. Participants in the first study were asked to describe the most personally satisfying event they had experienced during the last month. Those in the second group considered the same event, but from the last week. The third group of students reflected on the most satisfying event of the semester, and also the most unsatisfying event in that period. Results from the three groups proved fairly consistent, with autonomy, competence, relatedness and self-esteem topping the list of psychological needs.

Descriptions of the most unsatisfying event revealed that a lack of those four needs figured prominently, as did the lack of security. "It appears that when things go wrong," the authors note, "people may strongly wish for the safety and predictability that they often take for granted."

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