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Key to Happiness May Be Within or Without You

A new study has found that despite the popular belief that each person holds the key to happiness in their own hands, a majority of people only agree with this if they are already happy.

Those who aren’t happy are more likely to blame external factors than take responsibility for their own happiness, according to researchers at the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Russia.

According to the researchers, they based their work on Bernard Weiner’s Causal Attribution Theory. This helps determine the causes to which a person attributes his or her successes and failures, researchers said.

The theory states that causal attribution can be classified using three different dimensions.

First is the locus of control. This can be external, in which a person attributes his or her emotional state to external conditions, or it can be internal, where a person sees themselves as the cause of success or failure.

Second is the stability or instability of cause over time. There are certain factors that are constant — for example, personality traits such as laziness or a strong work ethic. There are also conditions that are unstable over time, such as help or overzealousness in the person themselves.

Third is a person’s ability to control a situation. For example, a delayed flight is outside a person’s control, while cooking food is not.

In addition to attribution, researchers also factored in the phenomenon of self-serving bias, which preconditions people to attribute their successes to themselves and failures to external factors.

For example, if an individual had a successful job interview, they attribute this to their professionalism and work ethic. If the interview was not successful, it is because of the interviewers’ ill will and unprofessionalism, the researchers said.

For the study, researchers surveyed 600 people in three online surveys. This mostly included students between the ages of 18 and 22, and primarily women, according to the researchers.

The first group, made up of 281 people, had to recall and describe moments of their lives when they felt happy or unhappy.

According to the researchers, it was clear from their answers that they explained their happier moments using the locus of control, as well as factors that were stable over time and largely within their control.

The opposite was true for unhappy moments. The survey participants said these were caused by external factors outside of their control.

The 169 individuals in the second group had to talk about happy or unhappy feelings brought about by their relationship with someone. The researchers noted a lack of a clearly expressed internal or external locus of control.

The phenomenon of self-serving bias was also not observed. This shows that the respondents recognize the importance of the other person’s involvement in the relationship, the researchers explained.

In the third group of 142 individuals, the psychologists initially assessed the level of the person’s subjective well-being, and a few days later asked them to explain what they attribute their results to.

However, the researchers misinformed the subjects, informing some that their level of subjective well-being was very high, while others were told it was average or low.

The survey respondents whose actual level of subjective well-being did not correspond to their stated level said this was the result of external situational factors, the researchers reported.

Those whose actual level corresponded to their stated level did not find anything surprising in this, according to the study’s findings. They attributed their results to internal factors that are both stable over time and under their control.

Source: National Research University Higher School of Economics

Key to Happiness May Be Within or Without You

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Key to Happiness May Be Within or Without You. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 12 Nov 2018 (Originally: 11 Nov 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 12 Nov 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.