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What is Happiness in Life?

What is happiness in life and what factors contribute to it? Many people have explored this topic over the past 20 years, and there is now greater understanding around how to be happy. Here are some thoughts, and findings from a variety of research papers.

Happiness in life is generally accepted to be a sense of contentment, fulfillment, well being, and even joy. Some people believe that if pleasure is present, then happiness must also be present.

However, many people, including research psychologists, would make some clarifications and distinctions around pleasure and authentic happiness.

For example; Whereas you may derive some pleasure from eating a chocolate bar, doing so may not be contributing to your happiness if you are concerned about your health, weight and fitness.

What Is Happiness... Is it Pre-Determined?

It was once believed that everyone arrived in the world with a particular level of happiness that was based on their genetic make up. Further to that, it was thought that the happiness level you came into the world with was a rather obstinate set-point that could only be raised or lowered for short periods of time, and then it would stubbornly return to the level your genetics had assigned you. This deterministic set-point theory about happiness has recently been shown to be incorrect.

Data was collected by the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) Survey through a 25 year longitudinal study. When reveiwed and described by Bruce Headey, Ruud Muffelsb, and Gert Wagner they emphasized that the data revealed that "levels of happiness can and do change" through the course of a persons life. So then, if not genes, what is happiness related to?

What is Happiness in Life Correlated With?

Many philosophers and psychologists have compiled their own lists of factors that are determinants in a persons happiness level. With a variety of lists, they cover everything from physical and mental health, to spiritual and financial wealth.

After having reviewed various reports myself on how to be happy, and having recently attended the 2011 Happiness and It's Causes Conference, I've drawn up this list of primary factors that most predominantly play into being happy. The Happiness Quiz (12 quick questions) has been thoughtfully composed based on these factors.

What is happiness to you? As you read through the following explanations, ask yourself if you can see these correlations at work in your own life.

  1. Relationships comprise a large component in the evaluation of what makes people happy:

    This category includes relationships with intimate partners, your family, friendships, as well as those in your social groups such as church or hobbies, and communities that you participate in. Both the time that you spend with people who you care about, as well as the quality of that time, adds into the satisfaction that you feel from life on a daily basis.

    Bruce Headey, Ruud Muffelsb, and Gert Wagner, reporting on data from the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) Survey, stated that certain relationships appeared to predict happiness that would increase and then remain at a higher level. These included factors of a stable marriage partner, making goals of family/close relationships a priority, as well as spending time with people you feel close to.

    Psychologist Sidney Jourard cites personal relationships as not just one major source of happiness, but THE major source of your happiness. He estimates this element as being responsible for a whopping 85% of ones happiness!

  2. Personal philosophy and attitudes:

    This covers your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes that drive you. Clarity around your personal core values, life purpose, hopes and dreams play an important role in your keys to happiness. When you express your feelings of appreciation and gratitude, you are also reflecting part of your recipe for happiness.

    What is happiness in relation to attitude?

    • University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman is author of Authentic Happiness, a keys to happiness book. He reports that happy people are those who have a self empowering attitude, actively pursuing personal growth, and evaluating themselves against their own measuring sticks, never against what other people do or have accomplished.
    • Jeffrey Froh, Giacomo Bono, and Robert Emmons undertook a study in 2010 determining that gratefulness in adolescents appears to help initiate a trend toward better emotional and social well-being.
  3. Expressing what is important to you through words and actions, on a daily basis:
    This encompasses your work and all other actions you spend your life doing. Do you undertake what you do based on what your passions and personal core values are? This factor relates to both the congruity between what you value and what you do, as well as your willingness to step beyond previous boundaries to discover new abilities based on meaningfulness in your life.

    What is happiness in relation to your work and actions?

    • Psychology professors Kennon Sheldon and Sonja Lyubomirsky attribute well over 25% of our happiness to the actions we take and the things we do. Doing something new rates particularly well. If you are good at it, vary the frequency, time and place, then it's most likely to give you lasting happiness in life.
    • Psychologist Sidney Jourard says that a persons career serves as a source of the happiness and satisfaction that everyone wants, albeit a comparatively small and temporary one.
  4. Good physical health and fitness:
    Factors impacting on your health and fitness, and therefore your happiness, include the food you eat, the exercise you do, the sunshine and fresh air you enjoy, as well as having time to relax.

    Sheldon Cohen, PhD, a psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University found in his study that people most likely to succumb to a virus also scored low on positive emotions (including happiness, calmness, and liveliness).

  5. Reasonable standards of living:

    There are clear indications that happiness is not dependent on financial abundance, however, having ones basic needs met has been correlated with a persons ability to be content and smell the roses a bit more easily.

    Professional feedback on money and happiness:

    • On reflection of British research noting the rising standard of living in that country, Professor Daniel Kahneman of University of Princeton observed that despite the rise in living conditions, people's happiness levels had not shown any increase what so ever. Further, in some cases he noted that the reported experience of happiness had actually gone down slightly.
    • University of Illinois psychologist Ed Diener went so far as to say "'Materialism is toxic for happiness. Even rich materialists aren't as happy as those who care less about getting and spending."

    Knowing how to be happy and 'being happy' really has very little to do with money.

    However, it can be valuable to understand what you think it is that money will do for you. You may discover there are other ways and tools to achieve the results you really want, rather than hoping or expecting money to be a magic wand.

Take the quick happiness quiz to see how that compares with your ideas. Then tally your score and put into practice the 24 ideas on how to be happier.

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