What Makes People Happy

Happiness is obvious yet mysterious.  We know when we are happy, but we are constantly chasing it.  Happiness should not be defined as a mood of temporary euphoria as it is often thought off as.  Nor should happiness be thought of satisfaction when life goes our way.  Instead, happiness should be defined as long-term fulfillment and satisfaction in spite of setbacks and sad moments.  In this definition, it doesn’t mean that we can’t be sad, mad, or disappointment.  Instead, it means that we know that feelings of sadness, anger, and disappointment are temporary emotions that do not overtake the satisfaction of an otherwise blissful life.  If we are to think about happiness in this manner, we are then able to get rid of the silly notion that life is all sunshine and rainbows.

So according to this new paradigm of happiness, what ultimately brings people this feeling of long-term fulfillment and satisfaction?  In other words, what makes people happy?  By relying on scientific literature, we are able to come up with the following seven things that bring people happiness.

1) Having close social relationships

Although casual friendships and relationships do have a place in our lives, they do not bring us long-term fulfillment.  Instead it is the closest relationships that we hold near and dear to our hearts that makes us happy.  Although we can have hundreds or even thousands of friendships on Facebook, we can really only maintain a fraction of those relationships.  Dunbar’s number suggests that there is a cognitive limit to how many relationships we can maintain; the number is between 100 to 150.  However, true happiness lies in a number even lower than that.  Out of the 100 to 150 relationships, only a fraction of that is pertinent to our long-term fulfillment.  The relationships that makes us the happiest are the ones that we are able to maintain on a monthly basis, or almost monthly basis.

In the same vein, do not take our close friends and family for granted.  There is no replacement for face-to-face interaction.  The rise of communications technology and social networks make it easy to neglect human interaction—but nothing can truly replace human interaction.  We feel a lot better after seeing our families than talking on the phone with them.

2) Having a life with meaning

Attaching meaning to life is important.  Although having a fun life with weekends filled with drinking and friends can be enjoyable, it starts to get old as we start hitting major milestones in our lives and start reflecting.  To have a sense meaning in our lives is to do things that reflect and express the self in its truest form.  Finding meaning in life means defining what our existence stands for.  And more often than not, the meaning that people attach to their lives is often related to the love and responsibility they have for others.  That is why people often find meaning in their lives through helping and being responsible for others, be it parenting, teaching, giving money, or giving time.

3) Realizing true potential

Self-actualization, becoming who we want to become, is as fulfilling as it gets.  Everyone has a vision of the person they want to be—and most of life is a constant struggle to strive to be that person.  But when we become that person, when we get to where we want to be as a person, it doesn’t get much better.

But self-actualization involves taking a hard look at inside to see what our true motivations are, and to see what type of person we want to become.  Many people chase after a goal for so long, and end up reaching that goal, to find out that they hate the person they have become. Don’t be that person.

4) Doing something well

We all want to be good at something.  Mastering a craft is important to happiness.  In psychology, signature strengths are things that we are uniquely talented at.  And it has been shown that practicing our signature strengths on a daily basis can make someone significantly happier for months.  577 volunteers in a study were told to put their unique talents to good use everyday for a whole week, putting it to new use each day.  What they found was the experimental group was drastically happier than the control group, even months after the experiment was over.  This may be the reason why poor musicians and artists are still so fulfilled, even though they barely have any money.

5) A mix of action and inaction

People who are always on the go, never having enough time, aren’t always happy.  But neither are people with too much time on their hands.  It seems like striking the perfect balance is essential to long-term happiness.  If we are busy, it can be a good thing because it means we are living life and doing something with it.  But at the same time, if we are so busy that we never have enough time to just relax, then it means we do not have time out to reflect on life and enjoy our successes.  It seems that boredom is burdensome, but so is being crazy busy.

6) Having enough money

It’s hard to be happy when we are always looking for the next meal.  Although money doesn’t provide happiness directly, having enough money to ensure our basic needs are met is a prerequisite to happiness.  We can’t be happy if the family is malnourished and sleeping in the streets.

According to research, scientists have found that people who make $75,000 a year are probably have the highest rate of return in terms of happiness.  Of course, this figure is in relation to America’s economy; other countries may need much less or a bit more to obtain this optimal level of happiness.  At this income level, it seems that people have enough money to take care of their basic needs and still be able to splurge and go on vacations.  But beyond that $75,000 a year figure, there seems to be a diminishing return on happiness—anything beyond $75,000 doesn’t bring a noticeable difference in happiness levels.

7) Acceptance

Acceptance is quinessential to long-term happiness.  For the overwhelming majority of us, it is impossible in our lifetime to not experience disappointment, sadness, anger, resentment, and a host of other negative emotions.  Happiness is not about the salient and temporal feeling of euphoria from one moment to the next.  Happiness is about a deep satisfaction and fulfillment of the life we live and the person we are.

Negative emotions are part of the human experience and experiencing the full spectrum of human emotions is what makes us feel alive; so once we accept that there will be hard times in our lives, we will start to feel more connected with the world and those around us.  Thus happiness is not about repelling negative emotions, it is about accepting negative emotions and moving on from it.  Happiness is not about the shying of these negative emotions, it is a feeling of deep fulfillment despite these negative emotions.

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