Which Internalizing Symptoms Are Most Strongly Associated with Happiness? A Network Analysis of Indian and Kenyan Adolescents

Transforming mental health for all

Background

Individual symptoms of mood disorders have been shown to have unique associations with other symptoms. However, little is known about which symptoms are most strongly associated with a) other internalizing symptoms and b)“positive” indicators of mental health, such as happiness.

Methods

To better understand these relationships, we applied network analyses in a sample of Indian adolescents (Study 1; n=1,080) and replicated these analyses in a pre-registered study with Kenyan adolescents (Study 2; n=2,176). Participants from both samples completed the same measures of depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, and happiness.

Results

We found that internalizing symptoms formed a separate cluster from the happiness items. Worrying, feeling nervous, feeling sad, and feeling like a failure had the strongest associations with other symptoms. Feeling sad and feeling like a failure had the strongest (negative) associations with happiness items. The main findings were consistent across the two samples, suggesting a cross-culturally robust pattern.

Limitations

We used cross-sectional data, and we administered scales assessing a limited subset of symptoms and happiness items.

Conclusions

Overall, our findings support the idea that certain internalizing symptoms are more strongly associated with happiness. These findings contribute to a body of literature emphasizing the advantages of symptom-level analyses and the importance of paying attention to individual internalizing symptoms. We discuss how efforts to understand associations between individual symptoms and “positive” mental health indicators, like happiness, could have theoretical and practical implications for clinical psychological science.

Keywords: depression; anxiety; happiness; network analysis; cross-cultural; global mental health; youth mental health; adolescents

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