Happiness and Hardiness

Happiness can be defined as subjective well-being or as the actualization of human potential. Hardiness refers to an attitude comprised of control, commitment, and challenge that provides the courage and motivation to help a person assess and effectively deal with stressors. This entry will examine both of these constructs and the relationship between them.



Counseling by its very nature attempts to alleviate problems and foster happiness. In order to help clients become happier, however, counselors must first define happiness and well-being. Today, there are two prevailing perspectives on the study of happiness. In the empirically derived hedonic view, well-being consists of pleasure or happiness. Research that stems from this perspective typically construes happiness as subjective well-being, people’s emotional and cognitive evaluations of their lives as measured by their self-reported degree of global positive affect, negative affect, and overall life satisfaction. In the theoretically derived eudaemonic perspective, psychological well-being is construed as the maximization or actualization of human potential. Research that stems from this perspective generally focuses on behavior and cognitions rather than feeling. A wide range of constructs such as meaning and purpose in life, values, self-acceptance, and personal goals are studied in this perspective. In order to be complete, the study of happiness should focus on both hedonic and eudaemonic well-being. Similarly, counselors ideally should be adept at helping clients to achieve hedonic goals such as alleviating pain and increasing happiness, as well as eudaemonic goals such as increasing meaning, enhancing life skills, and promoting effective decision making and behavior.

Measurement and Constituents of Happiness

Happiness has been measured across time periods that range from daily or hourly to over the lifetime. Although short-term happiness is related to long-term happiness, there are differences between them. Short-term happiness is more changeable than long-term or trait happiness (which appears to be partly genetically determined); therefore, counselors are more likely to focus on clients’ short-term happiness and fulfillment. Long-term happiness is relatively stable and appears to be affected by life events only for a period of about 3 months, after which it returns to its usual level for most people. General or long-term happiness appears to be partly determined by satisfaction in particular life areas such as work, yet it is also likely that a person’s overall happiness level will affect his or her satisfaction in particular life areas. Since general happiness is less changeable, and since most people report relatively high overall happiness, counselors tend to promote happiness by focusing on things that are known to increase short-term or immediate happiness.

The factors that affect happiness, and the theories of happiness, may be grouped as either bottom-up or top-down. Bottom-up theories, which focus on external and situational factors, construe subjective well-being as the product of summed pleasurable and unpleasant moments. That is, a person is thought to be happy because he or she experiences more pleasurable moments than unpleasant moments. In contrast, top-down approaches construe subjective well-being as the product of internal traits and psychological processes such as dispositions, goals, coping styles, and adaptive processes. To more fully account for individual happiness, it is important that researchers and counselors focus on internal as well as external sources of happiness, and on the quality as well as quantity of external factors such as relationships and job.

Top-down research has found that temperament and personality dimensions such as neuroticism and extra-version are important determinants of subjective well-being and psychological well-being. Neuroticism, conceptualized as emotional instability, consists of a broad range of negative emotional traits such as anxiety, irritability, sadness, moodiness, and nervous tension. Extraversion incorporates more specific traits related to activity and energy, expressiveness, dominance, sociability, surgency, and warmth. Subjective well-being has also been associated with the personality trait of conscientiousness, and particular aspects of psychological well-being have been linked to both agreeableness and openness to experience.

Although personality is important to happiness across many cultures, personality has been found to be a stronger predictor of life satisfaction in individualistic cultures (in which the focus is more on oneself than on one’s group) than collectivistic cultures (in which the focus is more on the group than on oneself). Similarly, although both self-esteem and relationship harmony are important predictors of happiness across cultures, self-esteem appears to be a stronger predictor in individualistic cultures, whereas relationship harmony appears to be a stronger predictor in collectivistic cultures. Thus, when attempting to increase clients’ levels of happiness, counselors should consider their cultural values.

What Leads to Happiness?

Because personality itself is difficult to change, researchers have focused on more changeable top-down characteristics that affect happiness. In this regard, cognitive factors such as broad positive beliefs, generalized self-efficacy, dispositional optimism, positive thoughts, hardiness, and constructive thinking have been proposed to help explain how personality and environment lead to stress resistance and happiness. Other factors thought to increase happiness are quality interpersonal relationships; physical exercise; domain-specific control beliefs (e.g., beliefs in self-efficacy and competence); future outcome expectancies; setting and meeting important, intrinsic goals that are consistent with one’s value system; and learning goal-relevant skills such as problem-solving techniques and social skills. For people with a tendency to experience depression or negative affect, counseling that focuses on management of negative affect and increase of positive affect also may be helpful. For example, teaching such clients to dispute habitual negative thoughts and build in daily exercise and social activities may help them to ward off depression. Assessing clients’ goals and teaching clients skills that lead to setting and achieving valued goals as well as overcoming environmental or personal blocks to goals may be an especially important avenue toward happiness. Finally, teaching effective cognitive and behavioral coping skills may be vital in helping clients to overcome problems, restore equilibrium, and increase happiness. A focus on developmental and preventive counseling interventions, such as teaching clients how to structure their time, build meaningful relationships, set and pursue valued goals, and proactively cope, may be especially helpful both in reducing their stress and increasing their happiness.



Thought to stem from rewarding childhood experiences, hardiness is theorized to be a tripartite construct composed of a sense of control over experienced events, a feeling of commitment to various life areas, and a view of life change as a challenge. Persons who view stressful situations as meaningful and interesting (commitment), see stressors as malleable (control), and construe difficulties as challenges defined as hardy. These three attitudes are said to provide the courage and motivation to help persons accurately assess stressors and deal with them via active coping efforts.

Measurement and Limitations

Hardiness has been measured with a variety of self-report instruments, most commonly the Personal Views Survey, which has recently been revised and abridged. Such measures attempt to assess control, commitment, and challenge, and then combine these indexes into an overall hardiness index. However, combining indexes into a composite hardiness index has been criticized on several grounds. First, two of the measures incorporated into the original composite measure of hardiness failed to distinguish between hardy and nonhardy groups in an earlier study. Second, of the theorized hardiness subcomponents, commitment and control tend to be correlated, and challenge often has had nonsignificant or negative correlations with commitment or control. Hardiness, then, does not appear to be a unitary construct, and many researchers have recommended that its subcomponents be measured separately.

Although factor analyses of some hardiness scales have found three factors, other analyses of subscales have found only one or two factors. Finally, the common procedure of adding scores on the three dimensions into a composite hardiness score, and then using a median split to divide participants into high-hardiness and low-hardiness groups results in heterogeneous groups that may be high in one hardiness component, but low in another.

Lack of Support for Key Hypotheses

One key hardiness hypothesis is that hardiness buffers the relationship between stress and both physical and psychological symptoms. Specifically, for persons higher in hardiness, stress is theorized to have a weaker relationship to physical and psychological symptoms. However, although some studies have found theorized buffering effects (interactions between life stress and hardiness), most have not. Hardiness generally appears to directly predict mental and physical health outcomes, but this predictive ability is independent of stress and often can be accounted for by commitment or control subcomponents. Thus, it is not necessary to postulate a composite hardiness construct when results can be accounted for more simply by commitment or control beliefs.

There is also considerable evidence that scales of hardiness may inadvertently measure neuroticism. Some items included on hardiness scales appear quite similar to items of neuroticism scales, and controlling for neuroticism often eliminates the predictive ability of hardiness. Hardiness does not affect illness through physical exercise or fitness, and generally does not predict additional variance in future well-being above the predictive ability of commitment alone.

A second key hypothesis of hardiness theory is that approach and avoidance coping mediate the relationship between hardiness and illness—that is, that persons with higher hardiness will use more approach coping and less avoidance coping, and that more use of approach coping and less use of avoidance coping will predict less illness. Most studies have failed to support these mediational pathways. Some other key hypotheses (e.g., that hardiness modifies the stress-exhaustion process directly by fostering more positive perceptions of events and by indirectly fostering social support and improving health practices) have not yet been rigorously tested.

Hardiness and Counseling

The relevance of hardiness to counseling is unknown. Most studies that have attempted to increase hardiness have failed, and one that succeeded bolstered only the control subcomponent of hardiness. In addition, no studies have examined the relevance of hardiness to counseling outcomes. One study found that college students who chose short-term counseling to resolve developmental concerns did not differ in hardiness from college students who did not choose short-term counseling. Questions about the construct validity of hardiness and whether or not hardiness can be reliably changed raise questions about the usefulness of including hardiness measures in counseling research.

The Relationship Between Happiness and Hardiness

Similarly, few studies have examined the relationship between hardiness and happiness or well-being. Several “one-shot” studies and one meta-analysis have found a relationship between hardiness and measures of well-being such as happiness, subjective well-being, and life satisfaction. One study, which examined sub-components of hardiness that accounted for the relationship between hardiness and depression/happiness, found that individuals’ confidence in their ability to handle change and/or social interactions, belief in their competence in general, and receipt of personal meaning from their social and political activities accounted for the effect. Thus, as in research on the relationship between hardiness and other constructs, it may be the subcomponents of hardiness rather than composite hardiness that is responsible for the relationship between hardiness and happiness.

It should be noted that these subcomponents are not unique to hardiness theory, and their effects may be accounted for more simply by other theories. Furthermore, in light of evidence that neuroticism accounts for many of the relationships between hardiness and outcomes, studies of the relationship between hardiness and happiness should control for neuroticism. Finally, gender differences have often been found in the relationship between hardiness and its constituents and outcomes, raising the possibility that even results that are consistent with hardiness theory do not apply to men and women. In light of these findings, studies of hardiness that include both men and women should test for differences in findings across gender.

Given weak evidence for the construct validity of hardiness and the failure to consistently confirm the central buffering and mediational hypotheses, several researchers have recommended abandonment of hardiness research. Nevertheless, study of hardiness continues. Most studies continue to utilize one-shot data collection and correlational analyses to examine the relationships between hardiness and a variety of outcomes, such as adjustment, quality of life, and grief resolution. In order to make a substantive contribution to our understanding of personality and mental health, more longitudinal studies of hardiness should be conducted. Overall, however, the construct validity of hardiness is still doubtful, and hardiness appears to be of questionable relevance to counselors.


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