5 Reliable Findings from Happiness ResearchYes, I know. There are dozens of books written about how to increase your happiness, probably hundreds of different blogs all promising you the secrets to the keys of happiness, and thousands of articles written on this topic. Since the positive psychology movement got started a while back, it’s been going bananas. And why wouldn’t it? Who wouldn’t like to learn some “secrets” to unlocking their inner happiness?

Happier people tend to live longer, live healthier lives, make more money and do better at work. It’s a chicken and egg problem, though. Does happiness bring those kinds of things, or do those kinds of things lead us to be happier?

While we may not exactly know the answer to that question yet, we do know the answers to many other questions about happiness.

18 Comments to
5 Reliable Findings from Happiness Research

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  1. I am happy most of the time, however recently I started feeling less happy at work, that the work I was doing wasn’t as satisfying as it had once been. I have been trying to work through this issue by learning coping skills to help me through the feelings I have been having. Denice Kronau’s blog has been very helpful. She teaches exactly that… how to be happy at work. It has really helped rejuvenate my desire to be at work again.

  2. Well, you can’t ENTIRELY control 50% of your happiness level. Try being laid off from work for more than a year, worrying about basic survival, and see how happy you are. I know a lot of people in this situation right now–including one person who just committed suicide after being unable to find work for two years. So much for happiness research…

  3. Indeed, you can’t control all 50% of your happiness — a lot of that will still be stuff that happens to you in your life that we have little control over (like being laid off). I indeed overstated that percentage.

    • I agree with the percentage. No matter what life throws your way, we as human beings have the ability to overcome and persevere. I know getting laid off is terrible, but there are many, many, incredibly worse things out there, and people still manage to survive. No matter how bad you have it, someone will always have it worse, and happiness is a verb. It is an action. It does not happen passively. You must work at it constantly, just like a job. Trust me, I lost my little brother and best friend in an instant. He was just 18, I thought happiness would never be possible after that. If you want it, and work hard enough at it, it will happen, and remember, you may not have a job but you are alive, and so are your loved ones, reserve your seriously sad give up moments for the ones that are absolute. You will get another job eventually, but you can never bring a loved one back. I do not say this for sympathy, only to share some hard earned lessons that may help someone else learn in less of a rough way. I wasted way too much time obsessing over things that I now realize didn’t even matter in the long run. Keep things in perspective, work hard, and focus on what you do have not what you don’t. I only give my advice because I’ve been there, I am living proof that there is always hope, you can always overcome, and you can always perservere. It is not an easy road, but a road worth traveling, because life is too beautiful to waste by not enjoying every moment. Good luck!

  4. Happy people can endure crises because they have good relationships and strong internal resources to get through the tough times.

    So perhaps one key to happiness is to work on having good relationships and strengthening our emotional/mental selves.

    There will always be tough times to face, but flexibility and positive focus can bring us through.

    Nicely done, John.

  5. Personally, I believe this insistent drive for happiness can become disabling within itself. General happiness is the ability to basically ignore all the bad things that you know are going on in the world and in your life. This to me describes a delusion. Not that it isn’t necessary in order to survive life, however a constant drive for happiness is going to leaving you constantly analyzing and over analyzing your life and self. Not feeling settled because you aren’t happy enough or as happy as so and so.

    The point is that while happiness is important what is more important is contentment. It’s okay to be sad or angry or even depressed, contentment is acceptance of whatever emotional state you are currently in but not allowing it to control your life.

  6. “Does happiness bring those kinds of things, or do those kinds of things lead us to be happier?”

    Exactly! That and the following claifiations are why thre’s nothing reliable about these findings:

    1. “You control about half your happiness level.”

    That’s rightbut trivial. We cotrol everyting we do to 50%.

    2. “Money doesn’t buy happiness.”

    It does, depending on how muchyou own in comparison to others

    3. “Lottery winnings create only temporary, short-term happiness.”

    Because if you don’t have the skills to make money, you don’t have skills to keep it.

    4. “Relationships are a key factor in long-term happiness.”

    Basically yes, but it depends on the quality of the relationship and how important it is for you.

    5. “Focus on experiences, not stuff.”

    Again, that depends on your personality. There are people who don’t prefer experiences.

  7. I sent this link to Dennis Prager, who has a “Happiness Hour” on his radio program each week. It’s interesting stuff, and I hope he shares his take on it.

    Another couple reasons lottery winners don’t find happiness from their winnings: (1) many secretly feel they don’t deserve it, (2) suddenly experience social dissonance, caught between their between former social circles and those of the wealthy – circles which often don’t overlap – and (3) must suddenly contend with an onslaught of not only philanthropic organizations, but friends and relatives hoping to get a piece of the pie. It can bring great confusion and sadness to have long-estranged people show up with hopes of schmoozing some money out of you.

  8. Actually, I have to disagree that general happiness is about delusion or ignoring what’s happening. True happiness is accepting and responding to issues that crop up and realizing that both the highs and the lows of life are fleeting. Which is exactly the way it should be.

    It’s hard to get there but once you stop pinning your self-worth and the worth of others on what’s happening “outside”, or even on your emotional reactions it all becomes a lot easier to bear.

  9. I think it is dangerous to get too pinned-down on values, as the most obvious issue is that human beings are different, and have different requirements at different times. A person who does not have work (been there) will usually focus on that and their “happiness” will be affected by it – sometimes to extremes. Whether it be 50% or 40% or 60% is I think irrelevant compared to a realisation that we can indeed affect our level of “happiness” and should aim to make it positive, not negative. The bigger question for me is what really constitutes the state of mind called “happiness” and how it can be achieved more frequently, and probably as importantly, how can we help others achieve as well. I would bet that even so-called happier people are not happy all of the time. To that end, the information in this article gives some possible pointers in our personal learning process.

  10. It’s worth noting that the happiest populations by country of residence live where there is relative economic equality and almost no poverty.

  11. I agree with Michelle that “Happy people can endure crises because they have good relationships and strong internal resources to get through the tough times.”

    This reminds me why people who have had insecure attachments as children can have more trouble with this not having had the nurturance required to build a solid emotional foundation or internal resources. This is what psychotherapy is for. But telling those who did not have this upbringing may cause people feel more badly about themselves because they are not able to control their attitude and just “be happy” as those who didn’t have their upbringing. There are exceptions, but I don’t think its fair to say that everyone in those circustances is somehow less than because some others had overcome such a childhood unaffected.

    I agree with EJames that this is very relevant “It’s worth noting that the happiest populations by country of residence live where there is relative economic equality and almost no poverty.” The world happiness surveys do generally incidate the happiest all around the world live in nations which provide for basic needs.

    It reminds me of Maslow’s hierarchy-a person’s whose basic needs are fulfilled: food, shelter, health care, etc-will allow them the resources to strive toward self-actualization. It’s difficult to “be happy” when your exhausted from trying to get basic needs met for yourself and children. Of course if you have had a healthy attachment as a child, you are already ahead of those who did not.

    Money can buy happiness to a certain degree. Having heat and not having to worry about how to buy food, not having to worry about how you will get your sick child treated each time she falls ill, having a reliable car to get to work, well so many things, free up positive energy. I think this is especially true when you are poor but live surrounded by a world designed for the middle class, like in the U.S.

  12. I describe myself as a happy go lucky person.never a victim always a survivor.I have had some dreadful things happen to me in my 64 years and yet I seem to have the ability to pick myself up dust myself off and get going again.I have had 2 massive heart attack where I “died” 4 times. I am still here. I had open heart surgery and contacted a very bad infection 3 days later. I am still here. I laugh, I laugh a lot. There are things I can do and things that I can’t do but I give life my best shot always. I have had 9 years of bonus days.my mantra is I woke up this morning, I’m breathing in and I’m breathing out , no matter what happens it will be a good day. Positive thinking works for me.I live alone in a tiny flat amongst some of the unfriendliest people I have ever met. Yet I am happy. Why? Laughter really is the best medicine.

  13. I grew up with two parents who always seemed to be extremely angry with me after my brother died. There were no cuddles and kisses for me.My father was a perfectionist and so was my mother.When I was 56 years old I asked my father why the anger. His reply stunned me. I never loved you he told me, I never liked you, I do not find you a likable or lovable person.What do you do when faced with that sort of thing. I was hurt and angry and I walked away saying to my father that I felt sorry for him not for myself because at least I had joy in my life he had none. He had asked me to move away from the state in Australia I was to move to another state to become his carer. I did that. He threw me out after 10 days saying we didn’t suit. I was in a strange place and in an instant I was made homeless.What do you do in a case like that. You get on with your life and live the way you want to and be happy.I went from having a good job with a nice rented flat and good friends to nothing. I had nothing as I had given it all away to friends and a charity. I had to start all over again.I only went to his funeral to make darn sure he went behind that curtain into the fire.I never shed a tear not one.Yes I was bitter but hey I’m still here and he can no longer harm me.I’m also happy.With very little money but I have made some great friends.

  14. Something we should realize (even though it doesn’t help much, really), is that some people don’t have any love to give. They may have been abused and treat their children the way they were treated. “Hurt people, hurt people.”

    How sad for all of the people who grew up with dysfunctional, abusive parents.

    As children, we are perfect and innocent. Some where along the way a person(s) told us lies about ourselves, either verbally or non-verbally, and of course we believed them.

    As adults we have to re-program ourselves to realize it was never our fault. Those old tapes die hard, though..

    Every child deserves to feel safe, loved, respected, validated and heard.

    Our friends sometimes (in my case also) become….our family.

    After all….who/what is family? People who love us.

    Love, Allison

  15. My husband and I recently went from years of bread-line living to a decent, comfortable living (I got a good job after grad school & temporary employment & unemployment). Money now buys us therapy to deal with long-standing childhood abuse issues that were making us miserable. It buys us medical cover and dentist visits. It buys me sick leave and holiday leave. It buys us holidays away together so we can relax and reconnect. We always had enough money and social support to eat and to see GPs if we got sick, but sometimes it was a stressful, scary juggling act. Some people can’t make it no matter how they juggle. Money totally buys happiness, in ways that people can’t comprehend unless they can imagine the real, daily debilitations of going without all these things.

  16. The students who started attending Epicurus’s school-communities 2300 years ago and kept on building their lives on practicing his teachings uninterrupted for over 800 years would have smiled heartily at the “newness” of the never-ending row of “evidence” in support of opinions that used to be are self-evident for them. Although Epicureans have never referred to the achievability of happiness in percental terms, they knew and know that we can change some things (basically our attitude) and we cannot change other things. They knew that human relationships were the alpha and the omega of happiness and therefore they cultivated friendship in their communities and their couple relationships. And they knew what Scattycat stressed in his comment and what Democritus propagated before Epicurus:
    “At one and the same time we must philosophize, laugh, and manage our household and other business.”

  17. I have been researching the topic of financial literacy. This lead me to explore the relationship between happiness and money. I had come upon most of the facts before but this article has put it into 5 very concise “secrets” all in one package. Thank you.

  18. Excellent article. Lotteries definitely do not create long term happiness, although if you think about it, you would think that millions of dollars would make you forever happy.

  19. I absolutely agree with number five.

    You CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU.

    We never truly ‘own’ … ANYTHING. We just get to keep it for a while. On the day we die? Every sing thing that we own now belongs to someone else. All that Donald Trump has worked for his entire life will belong to someone else on the day that he died.

    We should absolutely focus on experiences and relationships; there are millions of millionaries around this world who can NOT figure out why they are not happy. The reality is? The more you have? The more people might try to take from you.

    If you have noticed, they never even bury a married man with his wedding ring. It seems most families are aware that a funeral home might steal the ring before the body gets buried, so they never even put it on a dead man’s hand. A man who stays married for FIFTY YEARS…. gets buried without it.

    That should tell you.

    Everything is dust in the wind.

    • That finding, however, wasn’t published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal (that I could find). And I’m also not aware of it being replicated in any way in a different country or culture, so it’s hard to say the lottery finding isn’t “reliable.” It may be more fair to say the evidence is still out.

  20. I think money could make someone happy (that is, it has the capability, so even without it or much of it one could be happy) because it makes people content (no elaboration needed) which follows that lottery winnings could make people happy, even for a short while.

    Happiness is circumstancial, anyway.

    Nonetheless it’s giving that gives joy, not just happiness, and I believe that that’s what separates rich happy people from rich sad people.

    But all these are just assumptions. We need citations people! For my dearest research.

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