Happiness. What is it and why does it matter to you?
“Happiness is a choice. You can choose to be happy. There’s going to be stress in life, but it’s your choice whether you let it affect you or not.” — Valerie Bertinelli
I have been researching happiness for a long time. Theories on how to be happy range from doing little things like journaling in the morning to larger things like being able to purchase everything that we desire.
Lately, I have been doing more focused research and trying to answer questions like this:
Should I be happy all the time?
Will more money bring me more happiness?
Is happiness something that I will feel when I get to a certain place in life?
These are the same questions that philosophers, theologians, psychologists, and even economists have been struggling with for thousands of years.
What I have found is that over the last several decades, scientists have started to discover what really makes us happy.
But before I get into what science has discovered, let me start by looking at what happiness is not.
Happiness Is Not Being Happy All The Time
Research shows that happiness is not the result of being happy all the time.
They have found that almost all happy people still experience times of sadness. Their level of happiness can and does change in response to life events, but it almost always returns to a baseline level or set-point that they maintain over time.
I see this is my own life when I take a vacation with my family or get a salary increase my level of happiness goes up, but soon returns to the setpoint.
When something sad happens in my level of happiness goes down for a while before it returns to the setpoint.
“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word ‘happy’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. ” — Carl Jung
This is what psychologists refer to as the set-point theory. This is a psychological term that describes our general level of happiness.
Each of us has a different set point. Some people have a have a high set point which means that they are happy most of the time. Some people have a low set-point which means that they are unhappy most of the time. Most people fall somewhere in the middle and fluctuate between periods of happiness and unhappiness.
Research on twins suggests that about 50 percent of the set-point has to do with their genes. Identical twins are more likely to have similar set-points than fraternal twins.
But what about the other 50%?
Research by Sonia Lyubomirsky, suggests that people’s marital status, how much money they have, and how privileged they are accounts for another 10% of their happiness.
The remaining 40% is based on their daily life experiences and what they choose to do with it is entirely up to them.
They can choose to allow their daily life experiences to make them happy or they can let them destroy their happiness.
It’s their choice so they should choose wisely.
Happiness Is Not Having A Lot Of Money
While living below the poverty line makes it hard to be happy, after a certain point more money doesn’t seem to buy much more.
This is the opposite of what researchers used to think. They assumed that having more money would make people happier. In fact, data from the 1920s to the 1950s indicates that as household incomes rose people’s happiness increased.
Research by Daniel Kahneman found that money increases happiness until about $75,000 annually, and after that it doesn’t increase with income.
“Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants.”- Benjamin Franklin
Recent research by psychologists from Purdue University and the University of Virginia have confirmed Kahneman’s findings in a larger study:
“They analyzed Gallup Poll data from 1.7 million people in 164 countries, and cross-referenced their earnings and life satisfaction. Although the cost and standard of living varies across these countries, researchers came up with a bold conclusion: The ideal income for individuals is $95,000 a year for life satisfaction and $60,000 to $75,000 a year for emotional well-being.”
You can read more about money and happiness here: Experts Discover That Money Really Can Buy Happiness — Find Out How
What these studies have found is that money does improve happiness until a certain level. That number can be higher or lower depending on the country but in the United States, that level is $75,000.
The point is that when it comes to improving day-to-day happiness, money generates diminishing returns. Researchers have even found evidence that in certain cases happiness goes down as incomes rise.
Happiness Not A Destination It Is A Journey
Today we tend to view our happiness as something that happened in the past, or something that is going to happen in the future.
People spend most of their time celebrating the past or trying to achieve something in the future. They view happiness as a destination. Something to achieve.
They forget is that they are living in the present.
“Happiness is a direction, not a place.” — Sydney J. Harris
They need to begin seeing it as a journey, and not a destination.
No achievement in the future is going to make them extremely happy.
No amount of money is going to buy their happiness.
No relationship is going to guarantee their happiness.
They need to learn to fully enjoy living in the present.
“Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of traveling.” Margaret Lee Runbeck
They may arrive at your dream destination, but they might miss the journey that got them there.
So learn to enjoy the journey as much as the destination.
So, What Is Happiness?
That is a great question. I am glad you asked.
This is something that has been debated for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks thought that it was composed of two parts, Hedonia or pleasure, and Eudaimonia or meaning.
Positive psychologists have added another component to the Greek definition of happiness which they call engagement which is sometimes referred to as flow.
In his 2002 book Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman proposed three ‘orientations’ of being happy, or three kinds of happiness: pleasure, engagement, and meaning.
Combining these three kinds of happiness psychologists have created a scientific term for it called subjective-well being, which is a combination of pleasure, meaning, and engagement. It is also something that they can actually measure.
Sonja Lyubomirsky in her 2007 book The How of Happiness defines a happy person as someone who frequently experiences joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.
What does all of this mean to you?
Your happiness is a combination of how satisfied you are with your life, how good you feel on a day-to-day basis, and how engaged you are with your network of family and friends.
Unfortunately, there’s evidence that suggests that people who focus on being happy may actually be less happy. Iris Mauss has found that people who focus on the pursuit of happiness can actually reduce their happiness.
So it’s not trying to be happy that matters, it is allowing yourself to enjoy life and spend it with people who matter to you that makes you happy.
Happiness is not feeling constant pleasure. It is not having a lot of money. IT is not even a destination
It is having satisfaction and meaning in life. It’s the ability to feel positive emotions. The ability to overcome negative emotions. The ability to connect with others.
It is having a sense of meaning and purpose.
Call To Action
If you want to be extraordinarily happy and create the life of your dreams, check out my checklist.
(P.S. I have included some Amazon affiliate links to help defray the ridiculously high cost of my daughter’s education)
This story first appeared on Medium.com