Revisiting “Most People Are Happy”—And Discovering When They Are Not


Diener, E., Diener, C., Choi, H., & Oishi, S. (2018). Revisiting “Most People Are Happy”—And discovering when they are not. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13(2), 166-170.


In our 1996 article, “Most People are Happy,” we presented evidence showing that the majority of humans are above neutral in happiness. The article was popular perhaps for several reasons. First, we shed light on the ubiquity of positive or pleasant emotions, whereas previously many scholars had focused on negative or unpleasant ones. Second, our article may have received attention because, as we showed, most people believe that humans are much less happy than they actually are. Thus, our article provided an impetus for understanding the role of positive emotions as well as illuminating an important aspect of human happiness—the fact that happiness is not unusual but may be the default condition. In the current article, we review evidence from the first representative sample of humanity, the Gallup World Poll, and include many more nations that are very poor and troubled. We find that the majority of people are above neutral in affect balance but not life satisfaction. Furthermore, there are extremely bad life circumstances in which most people are below neutral in affect balance as well. This suggests that one explanation for most people’s happiness is that most societies, but not all, can meet enough human needs that they provide the conditions for human happiness. Finally, our findings suggest that human happiness is not just in our heads or genes but is also influenced by personal and societal circumstances. 

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