Momentary Happiness: The Role of Psychological Need Satisfaction

Abstract

Psychological well-being correlates positively with psychological need satisfaction—primarily the needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. The current study explores momentary happiness (defined as experienced enjoyment minus experienced stress over the course of an hour) as a function of momentary psychological need satisfaction. Results demonstrate that hour-by-hour ratings of psychological need satisfaction were correlated with momentary happiness, with individual differences in life satisfaction moderating this relationship. Ratings of autonomy and relatedness correlated positively with momentary happiness, while competence was negatively correlated with momentary happiness. Thus, engagement in competence-promoting behaviors may come at an affective cost, at least in the moment. When autonomy and relatedness needs were met, individuals with high levels of life satisfaction experienced greater increases in happiness than individuals with low levels of life satisfaction. This finding supports a sensitization model of well-being. Results are discussed with respect to their implications for self-determination theory (SDT).

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This methodology is similar to the Day Reconstruction Method used by Kahneman et al. (2004). While both retrospective/reconstruction diary methods and experience sampling methods have advantages and disadvantages, Kahanmen et al. demonstrated that patterns of affect for experience sampling and retrospective/reconstruction diary methods are comparable.

  2. 2.

    The definition of momentary happiness used with Sample 2 is consistent with past research describing happiness as affect balance (e.g., positive affect minus negative affect), as this emotional construct is marked by the experience of more positive affect and less negative affect (see Bradburn 1969; Diener et al. 1985; Diener et al. 1999; Lyubomirsky and Lepper 1999).

  3. 3.

    Diener et al. (1985) found that timeframe greatly impacts the relation between PA and NA, with the strongest negative correlation occurring when the variables were measured as momentary affect. They found that PA and NA became less associated as timeframe increased.

  4. 4.

    This weak inverse relation with negative affect is consistent with Reis et al. (2000), who found that relatedness was not an important predictor of decreased negative outcomes. Reis et al. suggest that relatedness-promoting behaviors are predictive of positive social activities as well as of increased arguments and conflicts. Thus, it appears that engaging in relatedness-producing (typically social) behaviors increases well-being through positive social interactions, but does not substantially decrease the number of negative emotions associated with negative social interactions.

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Correspondence to Ryan T. Howell.

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Howell, R.T., Chenot, D., Hill, G. et al. Momentary Happiness: The Role of Psychological Need Satisfaction. J Happiness Stud 12, 1–15 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-009-9166-1

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Keywords

  • Subjective well-being
  • Happiness
  • Self-determination theory
  • Psychological needs