BOOK REVIEW: Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth by Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener (Wiley-Blackwell, 2008).
In their new book released tomorrow (September 16, 2008), Psychologists Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener, a father-and-son team, take on these and other provocative questions. In Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, the authors draw on the most current research in the field of Positive Psychology to answer these questions in a thorough and thoughtful way. Sometimes the answers are “yes,” sometimes the answers are “no,” and sometimes the best and most honest answer is “it depends.”
Ed Diener (left) and Robert Biswas-Diener (right) define psychological wealth as “your true net worth, and includes your attitudes toward life, social support, spiritual development, material resources, health, and the activities in which you engage.” Hence psychological wealth incorporates more than just one’s finances. The components of psychology wealth help us understand why some people may be financially poor but are rich in terms of psychological wealth and happiness while others can be fantastically financially wealthy but have very little psychological wealth and are miserable.
The book explores the research findings that are related to each of the components of psychological wealth:
- Life satisfaction
- Spirituality and meaning in life
- Positive attitudes and emotions
- Loving social relationships
- Engaging activities and work
- Values and life goals to achieve them
- Physical and mental health
- Material sufficiency to meet our needs
For example, as it turns out, (contrary to the oft repeated old adage), money CAN buy some happiness – to a degree: it depends. Yes, other people DO, in fact, matter. In the end, the authors say, “psychological wealth is about having a balanced portfolio. This book provides an overview of the elements of psychological wealth that research reveals are good investments.”
The book is divided into four parts. Part one focuses on understanding true wealth and the explanation of the concept of psychological wealth. Part two is focused on why happy people function better physically, socially, and at work. Part three digs deeper into the other components of psychological wealth including money, religion/spirituality, culture, and “the happiness set point.” Part four pulls everything together and provides a series of surveys and questionnaires for the reader to take to measure one’s own psychological wealth.
Science Can Be Fun
If you think all this science and research results in a dull, dry book to read, think again. This book is absolutely a delight to read. Diener and Biswas-Diener have made the science very accessible and practical. You will love the stories they weave into the text – both the stories about themselves and the stories about the people they have studied. The Dieners take us along on their adventures around the world. From Africa to the Arctic to the Amazon, we tag along as they unlock the mysteries of happiness. As you read the book you come to understand why Diener is known as the “Jedi Master of Happiness” and why Biswas-Diener has been called the “Indiana Jones of Psychology.” Get the book, settle into a comfortable chair, buckle your seatbelt, and enjoy the ride.
Diener and Biswas-Diener conclude their book by wishing us all happiness and psychological wealth: “If you are high in psychological wealth, congratulations on a life that is well-lived. If you are impoverished, or poorer than you would like to be, now is the time to increase your [psychological] wealth, and hopefully this book has given you knowledge to help you get started.” It does. It undoubtedly does.
Diener, E. & Biswas-Diener, R. (2008). Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth. Wiley-Blackwell.