2013. Vol.4, No.9, 682-687
Published Online September 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 682
Association of Increased Levels of Happiness with Reduced
Levels of Tension and Anxiety after Mental Stress Testing in
Japanese College Students
Satoshi Horiuchi1,2, Akira Tsuda3, Natsuki Toyoshima4, Shuntaro Aoki5, Yuji Sakano2
1Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, Kojimachi, Japan
2School of Psychological Science, Health Sciences University of Hokkaido, Sapporo, Japan
3Department of Psychology, Kurume University, Kurume, Japan
4Graduate School of Psychology, Kurume University, Kurume, Japan
5Graduate School of Psychological Science, Health Sciences University of Hokkaido, Sapporo, Japan
Received June 3rd, 2013; revised July 6th, 2013; accepted August 2nd, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Satoshi Horiuchi et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons
Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
Previous studies from western countries have reported that happy individuals report lower levels of nega-
tive mood during and/or following mental stress testing; this finding has not been examined in Japan. This
study examined the relationship between happiness, measured using the Subjective Happiness Scale
(Lyubomirsky & Lepper, 1999), and negative moods (i.e., tension and anxiety) during and after mental
stress testing in Japanese college students. Based on the findings of previous literature and inverse corre-
lations between positive and negative moods, we hypothesized that participants with higher levels of hap-
piness (the higher happiness group, or HG) show significantly lower levels of negative moods and higher
levels of positive moods following mental stress testing, compared to participants with lower levels of
happiness (the lower happiness group, or LG). Of a total of 392 Japanese undergraduates who participated
in a screening survey, those whose scores were one standard deviation higher or lower than the average
score were invited to participate in the experiment. Eight HG and nine LG students agreed to participate.
A five-minute computerized mental arithmetic task was used to induce stress. The session comprised a
five minute pre-task period, a five minute task, and a five minute post-task period. The levels of positive
and negative moods during each period were measured retrospectively following each period. Heart rate
was measured during the session. Participant heart rate levels and negative moods increased significantly
from the pre-task to the task periods, and subsequently decreased during the post-task period. Levels of
positive mood decreased from the pre-task to the task period. Negative moods were significantly lower in
HGs than in LGs during the post-task period. These results partially supported the hypothesis whereby
subjective happiness buffered the impact of stressors on negative moods by influencing post-stress nega-
tive mood levels.
Keywords: Happiness; Mental Stress Testing; Mood; Stress
Stress management is an important issue for maintaining
health (Greenberg, 2010). Stress is related not only to increased
risks in relation to numerous chronic diseases, such as cardio-
vascular diseases (McEwen, 1998), but also decreased produc-
tivity (Watts & Robertson, 2011). Despite such negative effects,
several individuals experience stress globally, including the
United States (Anderson et al., 2010) and Japan (Cabinet Office
of Japan, 2008). For example, more than 60% of Japanese
adults aged 20 - 59 experience stress on a daily basis (Cabinet
Office of Japan, 2008). While the acquisition of stress man-
agement skills is important, increased psychological resources
are also effective and can buffer the adverse impacts of stressful
situations. Such psychological interventions presuppose the
identification of stress-buffering resources.
In recent times, the importance of positive psychological
factors has been recognized in stress-related sciences (Nelson &
Cooper, 2005); one such factor is happiness. Happiness has
been used to refer to positive subjective experiences (Schiffrin
& Nelson, 2010). For example, happiness has been used to refer
to life satisfaction, the presence of a positive affect, the absence
of a negative affect, and/or a global, subjective evaluation of
whether one is happy (Lyubomirsky & Lepper, 1999). As indi-
viduals, we have the ability to evaluate our happiness (Lyu-
bomirsky & Lepper, 1999). However, this is highly subjective
across individuals on the basis of what an individual deems as
being happy; such an evaluation does not necessarily corre-
spond to a simple sum of life satisfaction and affective experi-
ences (Lyubomirsky, Tkach, & DiMatteo, 2006). Therefore, it
is important to focus on global evaluations as well as specific
components of happiness such as life satisfaction and positive
affect. Therefore, this study focuses on an individual’s global
and subjective assessment of happiness.
Based on the transactional model of stress and coping
(Lazarus & Folkman, 1984), this study defines stress as the
relationship between the quality of a certain stressful situation
(stressor) and an individual’s coping resources in relation to the
stressor. A common stressor faced by most people is daily has-
sle (Stawski, Sliwinski, Almeida, & Smyth, 2008). Daily has-
sles are minor, but can occur frequently. Lazarus (2009) as-
serted that daily hassles can exert long-term effects on physical
and mental well-being. Generally, it is assumed that a given
daily hassle increases negative mood/affect, such as tension or
irritation. These reactions are transient in nature; however, the
intensity and return to baseline levels varies among individuals.
Importantly, the magnitude of mood reactivity (Stawski et al.,
2008) is related to levels of stress (strain). Greater levels of
reactivity result in higher levels of stress. Furthermore, it is
suggested that insufficient psychological and physiological
recovery is a critical pathway through which stress can exert
adverse effects on health (Brosschot, Gerin, & Thayer, 2006;
McEwen, 1998).
Previous literature examined relationships between happiness,
a global evaluation of individual happiness, and mood levels
during stressful situations. Lyubomirsky and Ross (1997) re-
ported that unhappy students, unlike their happy counterparts,
showed decreased positive moods when they completed ana-
grams with a faster peer. Lyubomirsky, Tucker, and Kasri
(2001) reported that happy participants exhibited decreased
levels of positive affect compared to unhappy counterparts
following the news that their team lost in a word-generation
task. Other studies focused on traits associated with positive
affect. Bostock, Hamer, Wawrzyniak, Mitchell, and Steptoe
(2011) found significant relationships between positive emo-
tional styles (e.g., happy, cheerful, lively) measured using an
ecological momentary assessment over a two-day period, and
the tension and anxiety during a five-minute mirror-tracing task
and a five-minute socially evaluating speech task. In contrast,
Steptoe, Gibson, Hamer, and Wardle (2007) reported that levels
of happiness measured using ecological momentary assessment
over a two-day period was not related to the magnitude of sub-
jective stress response during a five-minute mirror-tracing task
and a three-minute public-speech task.
Few studies have examined relationships between trait posi-
tive affect and negative moods following mental stress testing,
however, results have been inconsistent. Papousek, Nauschnegg,
Paechter, Lackner, Goswami, and Schulter (2010) reported that
students with higher levels of trait positive affect, measured
using Positive Affect Negative Affect Scale (PANAS) (Watson,
Clark, & Tellegen, 1988), tended to show lower levels of sub-
jective tension after answering difficult statistical questions. In
contrast, Bostock et al. (2011) found no significant relation-
ships between positive emotional style, tension, and anxiety
following mental stress testing.
These results show that higher levels of happiness or trait
positive affect is associated with lower levels of negative
moods during and after mental stress testing. However, results
have been inconsistent across studies. Inconsistent results may
be explained by differences in measurements of positive affect
or happiness, those in experimental procedures, and those in
participants. Because a variety of happiness-measuring methods
have been developed (Lyubomirsky, 2000), the improvement of
stress buffering effects of happiness with each measure is vital.
Little is known whether happiness, which is measured using the
Subjective Happiness Scale (SHS) (Lyubomirsky & Lepper,
1999), is associated with improved moods following mental
stress testing. In addition, most previous studies have been
based on western societies, such as the United States; however,
similar studies based on Japan that examine the relationships
between happiness and changes in mood responses over time
have not been conducted.
This study examines the relationship between happiness and
negative mood during and after mental stress testing in Japa-
nese students. We measure happiness using Lyubomirsky &
Lepper’s (1999) SHS. We establish and test the following two
Hypothesis 1: Happier individuals have significantly lower
levels of negative and higher levels of positive mood during
mental stress testing.
Hypothesis 2: Happier individuals have significantly lower
levels of negative and higher levels of positive mood following
mental stress testing.
Examining the relationship between happiness and mood re-
sponses during and after mental stress testing in Japan provides
several theoretical and practical implications. Theoretically, the
examination tests the external validity of the findings originat-
ing in western countries. The cross-cultural definition of “hap-
piness” may differ particularly between western and eastern
cultures. While personal and internal aspects of happiness are
emphasized in western countries, social aspects of happiness
are emphasized in eastern cultures (Uchida & Kitayama, 2009).
Happiness is strongly related to self-associated factors, such as
self-esteem (Campbell, 1981) and personal accomplishment
(Emmons, 1986), in North America, while it correlates more
strongly with social factors, such as perceived emotional sup-
port (Uchida, Kitayama, Mesquita, Reyes, & Morling, 2008)
and relational harmony (Kwan, Bond, & Singelis, 1997), in
East Asian countries. A practical demonstration of the mood-
buffering effects of happiness will provide the rationale to
health promotion practitioners to incorporate happiness-en-
hancing interventions in stress management programs in Japan.
Sample Selection
Participants for this study were selected from a college lo-
cated in Fukuoka, Japan. A total of 392 college students com-
pleted the Japanese version of the SHS (JSHS; Shimai, Otake,
Utsuki, Ikemi, & Lyubomirsky, 2004), as well as other meas-
ures of stress (data not shown). The JSHS has been found to be
reliable and valid (Shimai et al., 2004). These participants were
requested to provide their e-mail addresses in the case of vol-
untarily consenting to participate in an additional experimental
study. These surveys were conducted during introductory or
health psychology classes after obtaining permission from the
class lecturer. The average JSHS score was 4.40, with a stan-
dard deviation (SD) of 1.09. This study defined happier stu-
dents as those whose score was higher than 5.49 (mean + 1SD),
while less happy ones as those whose score was lower than
3.38 (mean 1SD), making it possible to divide the partici-
pants into two distinct groups—the higher happiness group
(HG) and the lower happiness group (LG). A total of 76 and 60
students qualified as HG and LG participants, respectively.
Those students who provided their e-mail addresses and quali-
fied as participants in one of the two groups were invited to
participate in the present study. Consequently, eight HG and
nine LG students agreed to participate. The participants mean
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 683
age was 21.5 years and a SD of 2.07. Of the 17 participants, six
were male. Both groups were similar in age (t(15) = 0.40, n.s.)
and sex ratio (χ2(1) = 0.40, n.s.).
Mental Stress T e st i ng
A mental arithmetic task involved adding pairs of two-digit
numbers as promptly and accurately as possible in front of an
evaluative observer. The mental arithmetic task was computer-
ized. In each trial, a pair of two-digit numbers (e.g., 64 + 34)
was presented at the center of the screen, with four potential
answers (e.g., 98, 108, 88, and 78) at the bottom. Each partici-
pant was required to solve each problem and choose the correct
answer among the four choices within 10 seconds. A timer was
displayed at the bottom of the screen.
The Japanese UWIST mood adjective checklist (Okamura,
Tsuda, & Yajima, 2004) comprises 12 items that measure the
fundamental dimensions of energetic and tense arousal. Each
question was rated on a four-point scale and the scores were
totaled so that higher energetic arousal and tension arousal
values reflect greater energetic arousal and tension, respectively.
Tension arousal has been reported to increase during mental
stress testing (Horiuchi, Tsuda, Okamura, Yajima, & Steptoe,
2010). The Japanese UWIST mood adjective checklist has been
found to be reliable and valid (Okamura et al., 2004).
The methodology employed for this study was approved by
the ethics committee of the first author’s college. After entering
the experimental room (a sound-attenuated small chamber, 2 m
× 3 m), the study’s purpose and the experimental procedure
were disclosed to all the participants. Each participant provided
informed consent.
The session consisted of a five-minute pre-task period, a
five-minute task period, and a five-minute post-task period.
Each participant was asked to relax during the three tasks in the
presence of an observer, as described above. After each period,
participants completed the mood check list. The experimenter
instructed the participant to evaluate their mood during each
Heart rate was continuously measured during the experiment
using the Heart Rhythm Scanner 2.0 (Biocom Technologies,
San Francisco, CA) and was assessed as an objective indicator
of stress. Although an increased heart rate does not necessarily
reflect negative emotion or mental workload, it is a useful and
objective index of stress. Previous studies (Bostock et al., 2011;
Brummett, Boyle, Kuhn, Siegler, & Williams, 2009; Steptoe et
al., 2007) consistently reported that heart rate increases during
mental stress testing, independent of happiness or trait positive
affect. An exception was a study by Horiuchi, Tsuda, Hashi-
moto, Kai, and Wenjie (2008). It reported that heart rates were
significantly higher in low-happiness participants during the
pre-task period and the mental arithmetic task, but not during
the speech task and the post-task period. However, they re-
quired each participant to complete two tasks (talking about
pleasurable experiences in front of a video camera and mental
arithmetic), one of which may have induced positive moods.
Matsunaga, Murakami, Yamakawa, Isowa, Fukuyama, Shinoda,
et al. (2011) reported that positive emotions were more strongly
evoked in happier individuals than less happy individuals when
a favorite person was presented as stimuli. Thus, the validity of
these tasks as mental stress tests is questionable.
Statistical Analyses
Prior to the analyses of mood responses, validity of mental
stress testing was examined. It was predicted that heart rate
would significantly increase from the pre-task to the task period,
and subsequently decrease during the post-task period. Per-
formance and subjective demand ratings were also compared.
Finally, patterns of mood responses were compared between
groups. The significance level was set below 5%.
Performance and Heart Rate Responses
The number of the total trials was 105.5 ± 4.91 on an average
and correct trials had a mean of 78.0 ± 8.22. The percentage of
the correct trials was 74.0 ± 7.27 on an average. A series of
unpaired t-tests revealed that there were no significant differ-
ences in the number of total trials (t(15) = 0.41, n.s.), correct
answers (t(15) = 2.08, n.s.), and percentage of correct answers
(t(15) = 2.06, n.s.). Figure 1 shows heart rate responses during
each period. Heart rate averaged 80.0 ± 8.61 beats per minute
(BPM) during the pre-task period, increased to 84.0 ± 8.00
BPM during the task period, and subsequently decreased to
79.6 ± 6.29 BPM. A two-way ANOVA with group and period
as independent variables was used to examine heart rate re-
sponses. The ANOVA revealed a significant main effect of
period (F(2, 30) = 5.91, p < .01). The subsequent Tukey’s hon-
estly significant difference (HSD) test comparisons indicated
that heart rate significantly increased from the pre-task to the
task period (p < .05), and decreased significantly to the post-
task period (p < .05).
Mood Responses during and after Mental Stress
Two two-way ANOVAs were used to test whether change
patterns of mood responses would be different between the two
groups. Figures 2 and 3 show changes of the energetic arousal
scores. ANOVA for the energetic arousal score revealed sig-
Figure 1.
Heart rate responses before, during, and after mental stress
testing in higher (solid line) and lower happiness groups
(dashed line). *p < .05 (vs. pre-task, post-task).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Figure 2.
Energetic arousal scores before, during, and after mental
stress testing in higher (dashed line) and lower happiness
groups (solid line). *p < .01 (vs. with lower happiness group).
Figure 3.
Tense arousal scores before, during, and after mental stress
testing in higher (dashed line) and lower happiness groups
(solid line). *p < .01 (vs. with lower happiness group).
nificant main effects of group (F(1, 15) = 6.43, p < .05) and
period (F(2, 30) = 8.23, p < .01). Interaction effect was not
significant (F(2, 30) = 0.67, n.s.). The energetic arousal score
was significantly higher in the HG than in LG. The subsequent
Tukey’s HSD comparisons indicated that the energetic arousal
score was significantly higher in the pre-task compared to the
task period (p < .05).
ANOVA for the tense arousal score revealed significant ef-
fects of interaction (F(2, 30) = 3.58, p < .05) and period (F(2,
30) = 29.44, p < .01.). Main effect of group was not significant
(F(1, 15) = 1.63, n.s.). The subsequent analyses of the interac-
tion effect indicated that the tense arousal score was signifi-
cantly higher at the post-task period in LG than in HG. Also, in
both groups, the score increased from the pre-task to the task
period (p < .05) and then decreased significantly during the
post-task period (p < .05).
This study adopted a four-minute mental arithmetic task in
front of an evaluative observer to induce stress. Heart rate in-
creased during mental stress testing and returned to the baseline
level four minutes after the test ended. These changes in heart
rate were consistent with those of previous studies (Bostock et
al., 2011; Brummett et al., 2009; Steptoe et al., 2007), which
reported that mental stress testing results in an increased heart
rate. No significant differences were found in objective per-
formance between the two happiness groups; this was consis-
tent with the results of Bostock et al. (2011) and Lyubomirsky
and Ross (1997) that happiness was not related to objective
performance. Therefore, the mental arithmetic task successfully
induced a transiently stressed state.
Hypothesis 1 was not supported. No significant differences
in negative and positive moods during mental stress testing
were found. Our results were not consistent with those of
Lyubomirsky and Ross (1997) and Lyubomirsky et al. (2001).
One possibility for the inconsistency may be that the present
study, unlike previous studies, did not provide negative social
comparison information for each participant. For example,
Lyubomirsky et al. (2001) found that unhappy students had
significantly reduced positive moods and heightened negative
moods when they received unfavorable news (i.e., their team
lost a competition). No differences were found in mood re-
sponses related to favorable news (i.e., their team won). These
results indicate that happiness moderates individual’s mood
responses when social comparison information is unfavorable.
This study included an evaluative observer; however, direct
unfavorable social comparison information was not provided.
Rather, on an average, 80% of the feedback received by par-
ticipants during the task period was positive. The differences in
experimental procedures may account for the inconsistent re-
In contrast, hypothesis 2 was partially supported. Negative
mood levels were lower in happier students following mental
stress testing, but differences were not found in relation to posi-
tive moods. Significant relationships between happiness and the
post-task negative moods were found, consistent with the re-
sults of Papousek et al. (2010), and inconsistent with those of
Bostock et al. (2011). Differential changes in tense and ener-
getic arousals from the task to the post-task period were ob-
served. The changes in the scores of energetic arousal were
compatible in both groups, while those in tense arousal differed.
Tense and energetic arousals have been considered as two dis-
tinct types of activation (Schimmack & Reisenzein, 2002) hav-
ing differential correlates. For example, energetic arousal is
related to performance more strongly than tense arousal (Mat-
thews & Davies, 2001; Matthews & Westerman, 1994). Since
objective performance was not significantly different between
groups, discrepancies between changes in negative and positive
mood changes from the task to the post-task period are under-
No effect was found in heart rate response. However, the
changes in moods following mental stress testing do not neces-
sarily correspond to cardiovascular responses. Waugh, Panage,
Mendes, and Gotlib (2010) analyzed the correlation of heart
rate and affective responses after giving a public speech, as
well as following anticipation of giving a speech. They found
significant correlations resulting only from anticipation. Dis-
crepancies between heart rate and mood responses are accept-
The present results have made the following contributions to
the literature: First, this study is one of the first to show that
happiness, measured using SHS, is related to lower levels of
tension and anxiety following mental stress testing. Papousek et
al. (2010) related trait positive affect, measured using PANAS,
to mood responses. Bostock et al. (2011) examined positive
emotional style defined as the average level of a variety of ex-
perienced positive emotions over a seven-day period. When
measured using SHS, happiness differs from these trait positive
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 685
affect insofar as happiness in this study refers to one’s global
evaluation of being happy.
Second, this study examined Japanese students. The defini-
tion of happiness varies between western and eastern countries.
Happiness is a self-related concept in western countries, while
it is a social concept in eastern countries, such as Japan. High
levels of happiness in North America, for example, are related
to increased self-achievement and self-esteem, while happiness
in Japan tends to be related to social relationships and harmony.
This study’s results suggest the possibility that happiness buff-
ers the impacts of stress for Japanese individuals by reducing
the negative mood following a stressful situation. These effects
are vital for practical purposes. Although the importance of
increasing positive affect and happiness in stress management
is well documented (Cabinet Office of Japan, 2008), there is no
evidence in Japan regarding the stress-buffering properties of
happiness. This study represents some of the first findings to
suggest the presence of stress-buffering properties, and to pro-
vide further understanding for Japanese practitioners who may
incorporate happiness-enhancing intervention methods in stress
management programs.
In conclusion, this study’s results suggest that happiness
buffers the impact of stressors on negative moods by influenc-
ing post-stressor negative mood levels in Japanese college stu-
dents. Although this study is novel to Japan, several limitations
must be addressed in future studies. First, only heart rate and
mood responses were examined in the study. Previous studies
reported that happiness and positive affect are related to quicker
stabilization of blood pressure (Bostock et al., 2011; Steptoe et
al., 2007). Therefore, it is necessary to assess other cardiovas-
cular measures. Second, this study examined only two happi-
ness groups. It is necessary to also include a group of individu-
als with average levels of happiness. Such an examination will
increase our understanding of the ways in which happiness
influences mood responses both during and after mental stress
This work was supported by Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Re-
search (A) (18203035) and (B) (22330196) to A. T. and a
grant-in-Aid for JSPS fellows (12J07469) to S. H. We thank Dr.
Yuichiro Nagano for providing us with the mental arithmetic
task and Mr. Kengo Mihara for his help in preparing the manu-
script. This paper is a part of the modified version of N. Toyo-
shima’s master’s dissertation.
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