The findings did not surprise James Maddux, a professor of psychology at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
"There is an abundance of research evidence accumulated over several decades that people constantly engage in what is referred to as 'upward comparison' and 'downward comparison.'"
For the former, of course, you compare yourself to those you see as better off. The opposite is true for downward comparisons.
''Too much upward comparison can lead to dissatisfaction with one's life and possibly to depression," Maddux said, ''while a healthy dose of downward comparison -- otherwise known as 'counting your blessings' -- can lead to greater life satisfaction." Research has shown that making a list of things you are grateful for at least two or three times a week can boost life satisfaction, he said.
This comparison explanation is the most plausible, Maddux said. It beats out the more remote explanation that unhappy people gravitate to locations with happier people.
However, the findings are no reason for unhappy people to surround themselves with other unhappy people, Maddux noted.
"They would be better off talking to a few relatively happy people and asking them how they manage to be happy," he said. "That way they might learn something useful."
To learn about how to choose a psychologist, visit the American Psychological Association.
SOURCES: Andrew Oswald, Ph.D., professor, economics, University of Warwick, U.K.; James Maddux, Ph.D., professor, psychology, George Mason University, Fairfax, Va.; April 2011 Journal of Ec
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