James Coyne challenges a recent story suggesting that living meaningfully is healthier than living happily, concluding, “Press coverage for this story is pure hokum.” Here he examines the study questions:
Participants completed online assessments of hedonic and eudaimonic well-being [Short Flourishing Scale, e.g., in the past week, how often did you feel. . . happy? (hedonic), satisfied? (hedonic), that your life has a sense of direction or meaning to it? (eudaimonic), that you have experiences that challenge you to grow and become a better person? (eudaimonic), that you had something to contribute to society? (eudaimonic); answered on a six-point frequency metric whereby 0 indicates never, 1 indicates once or twice, 2 indicates approximately once per week, 3 indicates two or three times per week, 4 indicates almost every day, and 5 indicates every day]
These questions are odd, vague, and unlikely to be encountered in everyday life unless someone happens to be Barack Obama or Bill Gates. I don’t know about you, but my wife has not recently asked me at dinner nor have I been asked another friend at a happy hour get together, “hey Jim, what did you do today to contribute to society?” “Did you happen to run into any problems that challenge you to grow and become a better person?”
It’s not surprising that research participants requested to answer these questions came up with something vague and affectively toned, i.e., related to their mood at the moment. I’m sure that if investigators had done a cognitive interview, it would’ve revealed that respondents struggle with trying to find answers and the basis of the answers vary widely…. This is a particularly poorly constructed assessment instrument. And whatever solid biomedical science was done, it is sustained or falls on an empirically indefensible distinction derived from poor assessment of what people have to say about themselves on the Internet.