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Adolescent and Adult happiness – a little discussion of the differences

April 25, 2013

This research caught my eye because it highlights differences between adolescents and adults in terms of (‘measurable’) happiness. The shift in focus toward ‘character’ (as relevant to determining happiness in adolescents) is also interesting to me in terms of how adolescent character traits may be socially constructed through YA literature….. So a few points from Garcia and Moradi; In their study of adolescent happiness (and the relation between temperament and character in adolescent subjective well-being), Danilo Garcia and Saleh Moradi write:

Research among adults suggests that personality is a major determinant of adults’ happiness (Lyubomirsky et al. 2005). The relationship of personality to happiness has been investigated among adolescents and shows similar results (e.g., Huebner 1991a; Fogle et al. [-p.932] 2002). Personality appears to be a key element because it is related to reactivity to emotional stimuli, individual differences in intensity to responses to emotional events, and to the duration of emotional reactions (Kim-Prieto et al. 2005). Specifically, Extraversion seems to influence happiness because it is related to positive emotions and being more reactive to positive affect, while Neuroticism is strongly related to negative emotions and a being more reactive to negative affect (Larsen and Eid 2008). However, while the influence of Neuroticism on happiness is about the same for adolescents as for adults (e.g., Fogle et al. 2002), recent research among adolescents has showed mixed results for the trait of  Extraversion. For instance, while Huebner et al. (2004) confirmed a significant positive relationship, Rigby and Huebner (2005) did not found any relation between Extraversion and life satisfaction. Rigby and Huebner (2005) suggested that specific avoidant behavior (e.g., avoiding standing out) in some adolescents might reduce the advantages of Extraversion we see among adults. Moreover, Diener and Seligman (2002) found that Extraversion, among other factors, is recurrent in both very happy and very unhappy adults. This has lead to the conclusion that Extraversion seems to be necessary but not sufficient for high levels of happiness (Diener and Seligman 2002). Others like Vittersø (2001) and DeNeve and Cooper (1998) hold that Extraversion is overrated as a predictor of happiness. Vittersø (2001), for example, suggest that Neuroticism not only predicts the presence of negative emotions but also the absence of positive emotions better than Extraversion does (see also Garcia and Erlandsson 2010 for another point of view).” (pp.931-932)

“Cloninger (2004) proposes a psychobiological model of personality, composed of temperament and character. Character is defined as what people make of themselves intentionally or individual differences in prepositional learning of personal goals, values, and even defense mechanisms (Cloninger 2004). However, although the concept of character holds a major position in psychology (e.g., Allport 1955; Rogers 1959), most research on adults and adolescents’ happiness has focused on traits models of personality (e.g., the five-factor model; Costa and McCrae 1992). Moreover, although happiness by itself appears to be an attractive goal; adolescents that experience high levels of happiness show less emotional and behavioral problems (Suldo and Huebner 2006).
The present study aims to address the question of temperament and character’s relation to happiness in adolescence. Although character might be influenced by basic traits (e.g., neurotics might develop more defense mechanisms while extraverts might rely more on social relationships; Haidt 2006), it is also influenced by changes in one’s life. In this context, character probably modifies the significance or meaning of what is experienced, in turn, influencing adolescents’ happiness (Cloninger 2004). Indeed, intrapersonal characteristics such as self-acceptance (Garcia and Siddiqui 2009a) locus of control (Ash and Huebner 2001), self-efficacy (Fogle et al. 2002), and adaptive attribution style to positive [-p.933] events (Rigby and Huebner 2005) are related to specific measures of happiness. Self-Acceptance, for instance, is related to happiness among adolescents even when controlling for temperamental dispositions (Garcia and Siddiqui 2009a). These intrapersonal characteristics are, at least in part, a good definition of character. The main proposition in the present study is that character needs to be included when researchers investigate the relationship between personality and happiness.” (pp.932-933)

“…character involves individual differences in self-concepts about goals and values (Cloninger 2004). Character seems to form the individual’s thoughts in three dimensions regardless of how our temperament leads us to react to different experiences: Self-Directedness (based on the concept of the self as an autonomous individual) allows the individual to engage in purposeful actions because the individual has a ‘‘sense of following a meaningful direction in one’s life’’ (Cloninger 2004, p. 120), Cooperativeness (based on the concept of the self as an integral part of humanity or society) allows the individual to be broad-minded and flexible about choices regarding goals and values because thought and behavior are based on interest centred in other persons, and Self-Transcendence (based on the concept of the self as an integral part of the universe and its source) allows the individual to intuitively recognize the beauty and meaning in [-p.934] experiences and own emotions as well. …Cloninger (2004) has suggested that character modifies the significance or meaning of what is experienced, hence also changing emotional reactions and habits. In other words, understanding the self as a unity of being (the self as an autonomous individual, the self as an integral part of humanity or society, and the self as an integral part of the universe) leads to attitudes that increase ‘‘personal satisfaction, sublimation, and flexibility regardless of external circumstances’’ (Cloninger 2004, p. 126). For instance, adults with a mature character development—that is, perceive themselves in more complex ways (e.g., see themselves as autonomous)—recollect negative life events, transform them into good outcomes, and find more meaning in life experiences (for a review see McAdams 2001).” (pp.934-935)

“…Kelley et al. (2004) have suggested that Novelty Seeking in adolescence might help the development of independence (i.e., Self-Directedness). Self-Directedness in adolescence, in turn, is negativity related to Harm Avoidance and depressive symptoms (Asch et al. 2009). Moreover, development in adolescence may be focused on the concept of the self as independent (Erikson 1968) and that specific concept of the self may be
another key element to understand well-being—being able to withstand peer pressure, for instance, gives feelings of personal integrity, honor, self-esteem, effectiveness, leadership, and hope. Such character strengths and feelings may lead to long-term happiness because they strengthen and prepare the adolescent to cope with different situations (Seligman 2002; Cloninger 2006). Adolescents that are self-directed develop good habits and automatically behave in accord with their long-term values and goals, probably as a consequence of self-discipline.” (p.935)

Garcia and Moradi conclude:

“Most parents and teachers want their children and pupils to be happy through life. Whether it is by showing them unconditional love or making them interested in history, mathematics, sports, or art, the purpose is always the same. In order to increase and maintain happiness, we perhaps need to look at the part of personality that mediates or modifies the meaning of what is experienced and probably changes emotional reactions and habits. Parents, teachers, and adolescents should strive for the cultivation of character in order to achieve long-term happiness. What is more, positive self-concepts might increase the individual’s sense of unity and purpose (Seligman 2002; Cloninger 2006). Interventions should target Self-Directedness; adolescents that feel good about themselves are aware of their own limitations and try to shape their environment to meet personal strengths. Strategies related to character, such as cultivating a bright outlook, and approaching undesirable situation with self-acceptance should serve as a guide in the pursuit of happiness. Finally, strategies that sacrifice possible instant reward (e.g., attempt to achieve full [-p.943]  potential, organize life and goals) should also be encouraged, at least in the context of adolescents.” (pp.942-943)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Danilo Garcia and Saleh Moradi (2012) Adolescents’ Temperament and Character: A Longitudinal Study on Happiness. J Happiness Stud  13:931–946

Abstract Personality is considered a major determinant of adults and adolescents Subjective Well-Being (SWB); mainly due to its relation to emotional reactivity, emotional intensity, and to the duration of emotional reactions. However, personality as presented above involves almost only differences in automatic emotional reactions and habits (i.e., temperament). Nevertheless, temperament together with learning experiences from different life events is responsible for what people make of themselves intentionally (i.e., character). The present study examines the relation between temperament and character to SWB at two points in time over a year in an adolescent sample (N = 109). Adolescents reported personality (The Temperament and Character Inventory; TCI) and SWB at the beginning of the school year (T1). Subjective Well-Being was then again measured at the end of the school year (T2). Temperament (Harm Avoidance and Novelty Seeking) and character (Self-Directedness) predicted SWB at T1. However, only Self-Directedness predicted SWB at T2 and also small but significant changes in SWB at the end of the school year. The inclusion of character in SWB research is discussed.”

Reference is to: Ash, C., & Huebner, E. S. (2001). Environmental events and life satisfaction reports of adolescents: A test of cognitive mediation. School Psychology International, 22, 320–336.

Cloninger, C. R. (2004). Feeling good: The science of well-being. New York: Oxford University Press.

Fogle, L. M., Huebner, E. S., & Laughlin, J. E. (2002). The relationship between temperament and life satisfaction in early adolescence: Cognitive and behavioral mediation models. Journal of Happiness Studies, 3, 373–392.

Garcia, D., & Siddiqui, A. (2009a). Adolescents’ psychological well-being and memory for life events: Influences on life satisfaction with respect to temperamental dispositions. Journal of Happiness Studies, 10, 387–503.

Haidt, J. (2006). The happiness hypothesis: Finding modern truth in ancient wisdom. New York: Basic Books.

McAdams, D. P. (2001). The psychology of life stories. Review of General Psychology, 5, 100–122.

Rigby, B. T., & Huebner, E. S. (2005). Do causal attributions mediate the relationship between personality characteristics and life satisfaction in adolescence? Psychology in the Schools, 42, 91–99.


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