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Remembering Ed Diener

written by Kathryn Britton 6 May 2021

Kathryn Britton, MAPP '06, is a former software engineer and executive coach. She is now a writing coach and editor with a focus on helping people write books, blogs, and articles that contribute to the greater good (Theano Coaching LLC). She has been facilitating writing workshops since 2013. Her own books include Sit Write Share on how to get writing done well, Smarts and Stamina on using positive psychology principles to build strong health habits and Character Strengths Matter: How to Live a Full Life. Full bio. Kathryn's articles are here.

It is with heavy hearts that Senia Maymin and I invite you to join us as we reflect on the life of Dr. Ed Diener. Ed died on April 27, ending his long and productive career as a teacher, researcher, and policy advisor. He started studying happiness when nobody believed that made any sense. Since then, he has touched so many people, both directly and indirectly through his family, his students, his clients, his textbooks, and his impact on public policy. He was also fun to be around, interested in other people, full of warmth and humor. There is probably nobody that so deserves the name Dr. Happy.

We both first met Ed in 2005 as an invited professor during the first year of the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program. He explained subjective well-being as a combination of positive affect, negative affect, and life satisfaction. I remember him stressing that positive and negative affect are relatively independent. Some people may have high levels of both, some low levels of both, and some a mix. In the syllabus, he assigned a paper that he had just written with Sonja Lyubomirsky and Laura King. Many of us have gone back to it over and over because it flips the usual “success breeds happiness” on it head. Indeed, it appears that “happiness breeds success.”

Ed Diener at a MAPP Party

Clearly Ed liked working with younger scientists including his own son, Robert Biswas-Diener. The two published an important book, Happiness: Unlocking the secrets of psychological wealth.

The last time I saw him was at another MAPP event in 2014. He was an invited speaker to the annual MAPP summit. His presence was so appreciated that he had two opportunities to speak to us, one on each of the two days.

The first day he spoke about positive psychology as a science, cautioning us, “Don’t get overly excited by one study!!” Replications are important, as are metaanalyses. Among his important lessons was his answer to the question “Does X make people happy?” The answer is “It depends… on society, on culture, on relationships.” He also urged us to be intelligent consumers of science, to make positive psychology broader than positive psychologists, and to go beyond the focus on individuals. Personality matters, but so do conditions.

The second day he spoke to us about the Noba Project, something he co-invented with his wife, Carol Diener. With the materials collected there, professors can build textbooks that match what they want to teach. The resulting textbooks tend to be much less expensive than the ones from old-fashioned publishing companies. Then he discussed National Accounts of Well-Being. The whole day demonstrated the growing breadth of both his own interests and his circle of influence. “I proposed national accounts of well-being to inform policy decisions.” By 2013, 41 nations had adopted some measure of subjective well-being. He reminded us, “What is measured gets attention.” In the same presentation he had a slide that said in enormous red letters, “HUGE Real World Import!” This was followed by the explanation, “Happier workers tend to be more productive, and happy workplaces tend to be more profitable!” I am sure that Ed did not base that statement on just one study.

May we all have the energy, curiosity, and hope to contribute right up to the ends of our lives, as Ed Diener did.

Just as we did with the posting after the death of Christopher Peterson, readers are invited to share their own stories and pictures of Ed in the comments below.


Selected References

Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005).  The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success?  Psychological Bulletin.

Diener, E. & Biswas-Diener, R. (2008). Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth. Wiley-Blackwell.

Diener, E., Lucas, R., Schimmack, U., & Helliwell, J. (2009). Well-Being for Public Policy (Positive Psychology). New York: Oxford University Press.

Diener, E., Kahneman, D., Tov, W., & Arara, R. (2010). Incomes association with judgments of life versus feelings. In Ed Diener, John Helliwell, & Daniel Kahneman, eds., International Differences in Well-Being (Positive Psychology). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Picture of Ed Diener and other MAPP students courtesy of Amanda Hoffman.

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Margaret Greenberg 6 May 2021 - 11:19 am

What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful soul. I remember those two opportunities – once in 2005 and once in 2014 – to learn from Ed. He not only studied positive psychology but imbued it in his very being. And that infectious smile!

Sherri Fisher 6 May 2021 - 12:26 pm

Ed was quite funny. Here is a slide he left up at the Summit while speaking to us in a serious tone about research.

Sherri Fisher 6 May 2021 - 12:28 pm

More humor from Ed Diener


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