By Professor Brenda K. Wiederhold
If you are a happy child, will you be a wealthy adult?New research announced in March at the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference at the University of Cambridge points in that direction. Investigators showed that a large sample of adolescents and young adults who report higher positive affect or higher life satisfaction grow up to earn significantly higher levels of income. In addition to other influences on income, a one-point increase in life satisfaction (on a scale of 5) at the age of 22 is associated with almost $2,000 per year higher earnings at the age of 29. There are neurologic mediators that may help explain this effect. Positive emotions help release dopamine, and dopamine stimulates cognitive functioning including memory tasks and attention span. Cognitive functioning is important in whether or not an individual aspires to attend college and find a well-paying job.
The new findings are important for several reasons:
- For academics, it suggests a strong possibility for reverse causality between income and happiness. This is in line with the recent World Happiness Report, which pointed out that the United States “has achieved striking economic and technological progress over the past half century without gains in the self-reported happiness of the citizenry.”
- For parents and other caregivers of children, because emotional well-being of young adults is essential to their future success, these caregivers need to provide an emotionally stable and positive upbringing.
- For policymakers, promoting general well-being may yield positive economic effects. Conferences such as the June 2012 6th European Conference on Positive Psychology in Moscow help highlight the importance of this field of study to the media and other influencers of public policy. As cybertherapy and rehabilitation professionals, our mission is to promote people’s well-being in our product development efforts to produce “positive technology.” Just as positive psychology can be defined as the scientific study of human functioning, so can positive technology be defined as the scientific approach to using technology to enhance human functioning. Examples of such technology include:
- Using technology to foster positive emotions: Physiological effects of temporarily detaching from a stressful situation and taking a moment to generate a feeling in the chest that all is well may be measured by heart rate variability using one of several affordable, portable monitors such as emWave.
- Using technology to foster engagement and self-empowerment: A recent evaluation of assistive technologies designed to enhance the quality of life and preserve independence for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan identified eight technologies useful in assisting those with sensory, cognitive, and physical disabilities. Among these were readily available technologies such as the Wii, for cognitive fitness.
- Using technology to promote social interaction and connectedness: A study of college students published last year in CyberPsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking suggests that the number of Facebook friends and positive self-presentation may enhance users’ subjective well-being. Furthermore, honest self-presentation may enhance happiness rooted in social support provided by Facebook friends.
As a way to foster positive emotions, positive technology has a bright future, regardless of whether, as some predict, positive psychology is subsumed and integrated into psychology as a whole. Who among us wouldn’t like to have technology available that helps us raise our children to be happier, and grow up to benefit both emotionally and economically?
President of Virtual Reality Medical Institute (VRMI) in Brussels, Belgium. Executive VP Virtual Reality Medical Center (VRMC), based in San Diego and Los Angeles, California. CEO of Interactive Media Institute a 501c3 non-profit Clinical Instructor in Department of Psychiatry at UCSD Founder of CyberPsychology, CyberTherapy, & Social Networking Conference Visiting Professor at Catholic University Milan.