I found this article in the Journal of Happiness Studies, which made me happy just be knowing it exists by the way. A whole journal just studying what makes us happy, what a joy!
At first this study really excited me. The authors posit that those who shift their point of views of what domains of their life are most important to their happiness depending on which domains they are most happy with at the moment have a greater quality of life. Their conclusion suggests that we can make ourselves happier by focusing on the positive aspects of our lives. Seems pretty basic, but is this what can be concluded from this study?
This study examined the relationship between a persons perceived quality of life and their ability and willingness to shift the importance they place on different domains within their life (recreation, social support, health care, etc.) Specifically, shifting the importance in favor of domains where a person does not have a significant gap between what they want in that domain and what they actually have.
To examine this, the author administered self-report survey to undergraduate students at a university in Taiwan. Participants were in general psychology courses and were between the ages of 17-30. The surveys were used to measure both each individuals discrepancies between what they have versus what they want in varying domains, as well as to measure how important each domain was to each individual.
WEAKNESSES: The measure of shifting importance was weak, and more assumed than actually measured. As only one survey was completed by each individual it is not possible to know whether or not any shift was actually taking place in these peoples perceived importance of the different domains, or if some people were simply more successful in achieving what they wanted in the more important domains in their lives and thus more satisfied. Assuming that any shifting at all was occurring is a stretch, only knowing each individuals relative importance of each domain across time can indicate a shift in that perceived importance. The author neglects to recognize the fact that their survey doesn't at all measure this elusive "shifting tendency."
While the theory does make much sense, it is important to use a measure across time if you are trying to measure a concept that is supposed to change across time. A measure taken once cannot measure change, and is thus useless. In the future it would be great if this study was replicated with the survey being administered at more than one separate time, in order to be able to show any actual changes in perceived importance of the life domains.
On a side note, I am hoping I will be able to share more of these articles and hoping more of them that I get initially excited about will hold more weight than this one, which in the end only disappointed me, personally. The fact that a study so fundamentally flawed would make it into a scholarly journal kind of boggles my mind.
(link to where you may read the entire study, free of charge: http://www.springerlink.com/content/1389-4978)