A curious, adventurous youngster, he said he once threw a rock at a swarm of bees to see what they would do. As a teenager, he climbed the Golden Gate Bridge and experimented with gunpowder, gasoline and fire.
His father wanted Edward to follow him into farming. But studying agriculture at Fresno State College (now California State University, Fresno) bored him, and he became interested in psychology.
Before graduating in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, he proposed a research project exploring the happiness of migrant farm workers, some of whom he knew from his family’s farm. But his professor rejected the idea, declaring that farm workers as a group were unhappy and that there was no way to measure happiness. So Dr. Diener chose another subject: conformity.
A conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, Dr. Diener worked as an administrator at a small psychiatric hospital before resuming his studies at the University of Washington, where he earned a Ph.D. in psychology in 1974. He soon joined the faculty at the University of Illinois.
As a graduate student and a young professor, Dr. Diener performed research on deindividuation, the loss of self-awareness in groups. He did not study happiness until the early 1980s, a shift that he said was partly influenced by his optimistic parents.
“My mother presented me with books such as Norman Vincent Peale’s ‘The Power of Positive Thinking,’ and this piqued my interest,” he said in an autobiographical essay written for the book “Journeys in Social Psychology” (2008), edited by Robert Levine, Lynnette Zelezny and Aroldo Rodrigues. “My mother told me that even criticism could be framed in a positive way.”
Dr. Diener developed several ways to measure well-being. One of them, the Satisfaction With Life Scale, consists of five statements that were posed to respondents, in small and large studies, like “In most ways my life is close to my ideal” and “The conditions of my life are excellent.” The respondents were asked to answer each on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree).