We asked this question yesterday at the first meeting of the Happiness Club NY.

We listed pretty much every method we could think of that’s used to study people. If you can think of other methods, please add them:

  • Asking people: QUESTIONNAIRES. Are you happy, and do you know it? Yes, this is a great method, and this can often lead us to find correlations: we can ask people about their salaries and we can ask them about their happiness. But the one caveat about correlations is that they are not causations – we don’t know which came first – people were happy, and so they got higher-paying jobs or people had high-paying jobs and became happier? One of my favorite studies conducted as a correlation study is this study about very happy people – showing they tend to have strong, quality relationships.
  • Asking people: QUALITATIVE. Some researchers want to get a qualitative sense of a certain aspect of a person’s life. These researchers sometimes ask open-ended questions in order to get more open information. George Vaillant has studied adults of all ages from 20 to 80, and has asked them open-ended questions to get more information. Usually the information is “coded” after the interviews…. for example, an interview about what makes a good life (this is a Paul Rozin example) may yield an answer like “The good life is when you are surrounded by family, when you’ve raised your children well, when you are generally healthy.” This might be coded as “FAMILY, RAISE CHILDREN, HEALTHY.”
  • Having people do activities: CAUSE-AND-EFFECT studies. Inviting college students into the psychology lab to sit in a lab and interact in an experiment. A good example of this is the candy bar experiment that Gilbert writes about in Stumbling on Happiness: on the first day of class, students were allowed to choose candy bars for the following four weeks of the course. Most students chose a variety – M&M’s one day, Snickers another. In following class weeks, they were asked whether they wanted to keep their original choice (i.e. In week 2, they were asked whether they wanted to keep week 2’s choice which happened to be almond joy), and most students changed back to their original favorite choice (say M&M’s). So variety is not always better. This is a case-and-effect study.
  • Beeping people: EXPERIENCE SAMPLING METHOD – Psychologist Mike Csikszentmihalyi is the author of Flow and many other books, and has used the experience sampling method in many studies. The method involves beeping people (and was first used in the 1970’s! when beepers were very uncommon), and asking people to write down at that moment what they were going, how they felt, and other aspects of the experience. Through this method, Csikszenmihalyi learned a lot about times when people are in flow, the state of complete absorption (often in bed with their spouse, at work, at their hobbies, and when driving).
  • Asking people to remember their day: DAY RECONSTRUCTION METHOD – Psychologist Danny Kahneman uses this recently, and so have many other researchers. This is asking a person at the end of the day to divide the day into segments (for example: woke up and did the mornign routine(teeth, shower, etc), commuted to the office, had first meeting with team (1 hour), worked at my desk (3 hours), lunch…), and then to rate different aspects of those segments.
  • Asking people over time: LONGITUDINAL. George Vaillant, author of at least three books on longitudinal studies, including Aging Well, has studied a group of people from age 20 through their 80’s. There is some type of information that is possible to find through longitudinal studies that is not possible to find in other ways. For example, Chris Peterson working with George Vaillant found that optimism in a person’s 20’s can predict physical health at age 60+. How is this possible? The researchers can see whether the people in the study have an optimistic way of writing about events, and then the researchers can examine physical health markers decades later.

What other methods do you know?


  1. Posted Thursday June 28, 2007 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

    How about the non-self-report tests like at


    a progeny of


    Over many decades, Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation has shown that people are more satisfied when they are using their hard-wired aptitudes (gifts). The assessment uses no self-reporting (people have no idea for what they are beng measured) and their non-profit labs have shown reliability and validity for a very long time.

    Here’s a portrait of Johnson O’Connor after whom the labs are named:


    Disclosure: I am Highlands certified but I only became so after sending many people off to be tested at one of the Johnson O’Connor labs.

  2. Posted Thursday July 5, 2007 at 9:43 pm | Permalink


    This is really interesting. I enjoyed taking the sample tests on the site. What kind of research method would you call this? Would it be “questionnaires for the purpose of synthesizing information about the person”? Is this method also used in academic research that you’ve heard of?

    Thank you! I really liked the sample tests. Best,

  3. Posted Wednesday August 8, 2007 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Hi, Senia. I am not sure if it used in academic research but I do know that many universities use the testing for their students. Research is done in the non-profit Johnson O’Connor labs around the US.

    I am sorry I took so long to answer. I was going through old e-mails and saw yours.

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  1. […] and can be ordered in such a way as to influence the person answering the questionnaire. I wrote here about different ways to study positive psychology (including questionnaires and assessments), and I believe that having a study participant DO […]