Ruut Veenhoven Award 2016
“Experiencing mixed feelings does not discredit bipolar notion of happiness and sadness” explains winner of the Veenhoven Award 2016, Louis Tay
The Erasmus Happiness Economics Research Organisation (EHERO) has granted the Ruut Veenhoven Award for outstanding happiness research to dr. Louis Tay, Assistant Professor of Industrial-Organizational Psychology at Purdue University in the United States. He received the prize for his innovative and scientifically sound research. The jury praised the breadth and quality of his research, which has been published in scientific journals such as Organizational Research Methods, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and Psychological Science.
During his acceptance speech Tay presented his recent study on the bipolarity of happiness and sadness. He explains that feelings of pain and pleasure, or happiness and sadness, have often been regarded as two extremes of one emotion, ranging from feeling sad to neutral to happy. However, this idea of bipolarity cannot be easily reconciled with the empirical finding that people often experience mixed feelings, being happy and sad at the same time. If happiness and sadness are two sides of the same coin, they should not occur at the same time; so that when someone is sad she or he is therefore not happy, and vice versa.
Tay however challenges the idea that mixed feelings disprove the notion of happiness and sadness as two sides of one emotion. He found that when people report how well they feel on a scale (for example from 1 to 10), they will most likely report the feeling that dominates at the moment. If someone is feeling neutral, it is also still quite likely that this person will indicate to feel a little bit sad and a bit happy. Therefore, the experience of moderate mixed feelings does not discredit the idea of happiness and sadness as bipolar. The experience of extreme happiness and sadness at the same time would do so, but there are no studies yet showing such cases. All in all, Tay’s study does not prove or disprove the bipolar theory of happiness and sadness in itself, but shows that current evidence is not enough to conclude the matter.
Tay’s study also holds implications for other research which uses self-report measures, for example on political attitudes, personality or other constructs from psychology. Other concepts which are deemed to be bipolar, such as left- and right-wing political attitudes or extraversion and introversion, might be studied more extensively and precisely when we keep in mind that the existence of moderate mixed attitudes does not mean that they are not extremes of one concept.