Recent Research Findings

Life Satisfaction in the U.S.

Where are the happiest places in the United States? Together with former MSU undergrad Nicole Lawless, we looked at differences in self-reported life satisfaction across counties in the U.S. We then examined the characteristics of those counties that predicted life satisfaction. The map above shows counties with high life satisfaction in darker blue, and counties with lower life satisfaction in lighter green (counties in white have no data). Click here for the paper, or request the paper here if you can't get access.

Happiness and Population Growth

Recently, there has been increased interest in using well-being measures to guide public policy. However, there are legitimate questions about the extent to which regional differences in well-being reflect real differences in quality of life. In this paper, we tested whether regional differences in life satisfaction predicted an important objective indicator of whether a region is doing well: the population growth in that region from 2000 to 2010. Our results show that there is a fairly strong association between the two, which suggests that self-reports of life satisfaction do tap something meaningful about a region. Click here for the paper, or request the paper here if you can't get access.

The Stability of Personality

How stable is personality, and does stability change over the life course? We used nationally representative data from the German SocioEconomic Panel Study to examine this question. The figure above shows the four-year stability of the Big Five personality traits for people of different ages. These figures clearly show that stability increases with age until about age 60, after which it declines. Click here for the paper, or request the paper here if you can't get access.

Life Satisfaction After Marriage

One major question that well-being researchers try to answer is whether major life events can have a permanent effect on subjective well-being. For years, psychologists assumed that the answer is "no" and that people inevitably adapt back to happines "set-points". In an early study, we found that soon after the event of marriage, people's levels of life satisfaction returned to the levels that they had been years before, a pattern that suggested complete adaptation. However, our early paper did not account for normative changes in life satisfaction that occur across the lifespan. In this follow-up paper, we use a different analytic technique to examine the extent to which people are happier than they would have been had they not married. Specifically, we compare life satisfaction trajectories for those who marry to a matched comparison group who never married. Our results suggest that even though people return to their original baseline levels, these levels are higher than they might have been had they not married. Click here for the paper, or request the paper here if you can't get access.

Michigan State University Personality and Well-Being Lab