Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Psychology



First Advisor

Lisa Harlow


Statement of the problem: Positive psychology has led to a proliferation of research on many positive phenomena, however there lacks theoretical organization among constructs (Gable & Haidt, 2005; Held, 2004; Pawelski, 2016). In an effort to ground research on diverse but related subjects, Christine Winston (2016) suggested that there may be a more basic developmental process underpinning phenomena. Her theory relies heavily on existentialism and humanistic psychology with no data analysis included as empirical validation. The goal of this thesis is to provide a scientific analysis of the credibility of her claims.

Methods: The first manuscript is a metrical analysis to account for a lack of empirical scales in existentialism and humanism. A summary scale is provided to specifically assess development of happiness as described by Winston (2016). Exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses are used with a sample of 310 undergraduate psychology students to accomplish this goal. The second manuscript considers physiological underpinnings to Winston’s (2016) theory. Canonical correlation analysis is used on a sample of 20 psychology students (10 undergraduate, 10 graduate) to consider relationships between Winston’s (2016) forms of happiness and biomarkers cortisol, interleukin-6, and DNA methylation.

Summary of results: Results were significant and directionally as hypothesized drawing from Winston’s (2016) theory. This demonstrates a more basic role of happiness in human functioning. Furthermore, seeing an epigenetic link, this provides preliminary evidence for possible ways to change stable happiness.



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