What do people want to be happy?
Being happy creates a range of positive effects that include:
+51% being active and sociable,
+43% being altruistic,
+36% liking of self and others,
+38% better health,
+33% effective negotiation skills,
+25% better performance on complex mental tasks
Looks like that happiness might lead to success! If you’re interested in better relationships, more successful careers, higher energy levels, improved mental and physical health, being happy gives you a good shot at getting there.
I’m sold, but what exactly is happiness?
Marketers would have us believe happiness to be connected to fame, wealth, luxurious products, expensive food, or the envy of others. Luckily for us, true happiness lies elsewhere.
Aristotle has famously defined happiness as including two aspects: hedonia (momentary pleasure) and eudaimonia (meaning, or a life well lived). Having eudaimonic satisfaction with your life, finding meaning in your life, is highly correlated to the maintenance of a hedonic good mood.
Besides pleasure and meaning, a third component of engagement has been recently proposed: feelings of commitment and participation in life. A strong sense of belonging to your society or community, is one of the biggest indicators of long-term happiness.
All well and good, but why isn’t wealth showing up in the formula of happiness? After all, it’s hard to be happy when you’re struggling to pay bills or put a roof over your head, and it’s logical to pursue that security before happiness. But the pursuit of money when you’ve covered your basic needs, as shown by Daniel Kahneman’s study, may not be the road to happiness.
Kahneman found that more money does not necessarily buy more happiness (though a lack of money is associated with emotional pain).
Above an annual income threshold of US$75,000, further increases in income no longer improve individuals’ ability to do what matters most to their emotional well-being, such as spending time with people they like, avoiding pain and disease, and enjoying leisure. Having access to the best things in life may actually undercut people’s ability to reap enjoyment from life’s small pleasures (Quoidbach J, Dunn EW, Petrides KV, and Mikolajczak M.)
So what exactly can we do to be happy in life?
This study showed that happiness has three crucial determinants:
50% of happiness is genetically wired:
- everyone has a different “set point” for happiness that is consistent across situations
- Intrapersonal, temperamental and affective personality traits such as extraversion, arousability and negative affectivity
- These traits are so genetically inherited that they can be traced to a particular type of infant temperament
10% of happiness depends on circumstances:
- Cultural and demographic factors, marital status, job security, income, health and religious affiliations
- This includes one’s personal history and life events: childhood traumas, accidents, winning awards
40% is determined by the experiences of our daily life requiring intentional and active effort:
- Behavioural: exercise regularly, be kind to others
- Cognitive: reframe situations in a more positive light, be grateful (count your blessings)
- Volitional: strive for personal goals, devote effort to meaningful causes
Factors 1 and 2 are not likely to change much with time, or have much effect on your overall happiness. The goal is to focus on optimizing factor 3, the 40% of happiness that you have control of, now.
Through the process of improving the experiences of your daily life, making the right choices and setting goals, you have the power to positively influence the 10% of circumstantial happiness – so the earlier you make it a habit to set and reach goals, the better.
7 things you can do now to be happy in the long term
- Do a random act of kindness every week
- Exercise at least three times a week (don’t know where to start, tailor an exercise plan that fits you here)
- Practice gratitude – keep a gratitude journal with you at all times and write in it at least twice a day
- Engage in social activities – get out of the house and meet friends at least once a week
- Figure out your strengths, interests and values. Set relevant and meaningful goals – and go about achieving them!
- Variety is the spice of life – shake things up a little to find fresh meaning and stimulate creativity
- With your newfound goals, good habits and happiness levels, earning US$75,000 annually shouldn’t be much of a stretch 🙂
Want to know if aging is a slow death to happiness?