“ Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof – because I’m happy; clap along if you feel that happiness is the truth because I’m happy ”.
Happy by Pharrell Williams
Happiness seems to be this imaginary place where we get to when we find the right person or get the ______(fill in the blank) that we always dreamed about. There are literally industries built on creating the dream of happiness as well as many movies and books that show the happily ever after. I dare you to listen to the song Happy (above) without smiling.
Being the researcher that I am, I decided to investigate happiness: what it is and how we get it.
There are many definitions for happiness but here are some that I thought really helped me understand just what we are talking about. One feature emphasized by psychologists is that happiness is a “state not a trait”. In other words, happy people are not always happy but tend to experience it more than others.
Other words used in definitions include joy, satisfaction, fulfillment, contentment, and well-being. The feeling that one’s life is meaningful and worthwhile seem to all be elements.
Who Is Happy
When looking at the research on who thinks they are happiest, the results indicate that older people (over 55 years) are happier than younger people. Women are happier than men. While income does play into happiness, once your income reaches more than $70K it makes very little impact above that.
While these types of people tend to be happier, features that characterize happier people include regular socializing with as many as 10 people a day or being more self directed in their lives. These features have led to the development of various formulas for happiness.
There is a whole industry around telling you how to be happy with books, podcasts and organizations that have various formulas and methodologies for helping you get into the elusive state. Here are a few:
- The Happiness Project sets out this formula for happiness which emphasizes your genetics and circumstances which suggests less personal control over your own happiness.
H=S+C+V Happiness = Genetic Set + Circumstances + Voluntary Action
- Good Men Project’s formula for happiness emphasizes more personal rather than inherited characteristics.
H= (A+P)*R )+F Happiness = (Attitude + Presence) * Resilience) + Faith
- Arthur Brooks in his book The Art of Happiness suggests that people are more likely to be happy because of certain circumstances which are not always under their control. He breaks them out as:
He goes further to breakdown the areas of habits that will contribute to happiness. These include:
- Faith (belief in things beyond self, spirituality)
- Family (close ties to your family)
- Friendship (community, charitable work, people beyond family)
- Work (earned success, serving others, creating value with life)
The habits may change over someone’s lifetime as faith, family, friendships and work evolve but these are important sources of happiness.
The surprise for me about these formulas is that they suggest that much of our happiness is out of our control however, they all leave room for you to create your own happiness. I think Arthur Brooks is right that we create our happiness through a combination of inner beliefs, loving relationships, purpose and having meaning in our lives. What do you think? What contributes most to your happiness?