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How to Maximize Life Satisfaction

Canadian Study Shows Cheerfulness Helps, Depression Hurts
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WebMD Health News

Aug. 18, 2004 -- Want a more satisfying life? Overcoming any depression you may feel and improving your outlook on life might make the difference, researchers say.

Depression and positive emotions and cheerfulness are the personality traits that most influence life satisfaction, report Canadian psychology professor Ulrich Schimmack of the University of Toronto, and colleagues.

The findings come from four studies and include data from surveys of 136 students at the University of Toronto, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of California, Riverside.

The students completed surveys about their personalities and life satisfaction. To get another perspective, the students asked their peers and family members to answer the same questions about the participants' life satisfaction.

Participants rated their life satisfaction and personalities by responding to statements such as, "I tend to be in a good mood," "I tend to be a cheerful and high-spirited person," "I tend to feel hopeless," and "I tend to feel discouraged."

It probably won't surprise many people that depression hinders life satisfaction and positive emotions and cheerfulness help it soar.

But you might not have guessed just how powerful depression and cheerfulness are at predicting life satisfaction.

For instance, "depression is more important than anxiety or anger and a cheerful temperament is more important than being active or social [in terms of predicting life satisfaction]," write the researchers in the August issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

In other words, a sunny personality can predict your life satisfaction better than a full social calendar. And depression kills satisfaction more than other grim traits such as anxiety or anger.

"Wouldn't our intuitions predict that somebody who is disposed to experience more depression, anxiety, and anger has lower life satisfaction than somebody who is only disposed to experience more depression?" ask the researchers.

But that wasn't the case. Depression was the key, not anxiety nor hostility.

Likewise, positive emotions and cheerfulness carried more weight than other upbeat traits in most surveys. The results were similar for men and women.

"The strong influence of depression rather than anxiety and vulnerability suggests that a lack of meaning is more detrimental to life satisfaction than stress and worries," write the researchers.

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