What Do You Need To Be Happy?

Fill in the blank – “If I had __________, I’d be happy.”

If you’re under financial stress or feeling discontent, you might say money. If you’re overdue for a promotion or feel stuck in your job, you might say success or a new job. Are money, success, and other changes to our circumstances the key to happiness? Surprisingly, no.

There is a correlation between success and happiness, but research shows it’s different than what we might think – rather than success leading to happiness, the opposite is true – when we’re happy, we’re more likely to be successful. And while research has shown that money can make us happier – some studies show the opposite is true. A particularly interesting study took a closer look and concluded that happiness is more directly tied to the money in our checking account and less about our income. What’s the difference? Someone who lives within their means and makes less could be happier than someone who is wealthy but lacks a budget (you can read more from Harvard Business Review here).

Even IF success and money could make us happy – research shows circumstances only account for 10% of our happiness. So, where does the other 90% come from? The bad news is 50% is genetic – something you can’t change. But the good news is 40% is in our activities and practices which we have complete control over. Of course, it’s important to note that these three categories impact one another, so these estimates attempt to simplify the answer to the complex question – what makes us happy? The bottom line is happiness isn’t wholly dependent on external factors – it’s more of an inside job. The pursuit of happiness is real and can make a difference in our lives.

Then the question becomes – what can we do to pursue happiness?

Make time for family and friends. Social relationships have a strong correlation to happiness. A study showed it was the one thing the 10% of happiest people have in common.

Find your purpose. If you have found your purpose in God, this is a matter of setting aside time to worship and pray. For others, reflecting on daily tasks can bring clarity. Richard J. Leider, author and founder of Inventure–The Purpose Company, tells executives to focus on what daily activities are life-giving vs. life-draining. He recommends journaling about them to discover trends so you can pursue more of the life-giving activities. Richard also notes the benefits of prayer and meditation as a break from technology to revive yourself.

Move your body. The mind-body connection is real. Exercise has an impact on our overall well-being.

Practice generosity. People who practice acts of kindness and care for others are happier as long as it’s not at their own expense.

Be authentic. A constant focus on what other people think can be detrimental to our happiness. Be true to who you are. People-pleasing is emotionally draining.

While these are five of my priorities, this isn’t a complete list. If you’re looking for a more comprehensive list of ways to boost happiness, I highly recommend Gregg Vanourek’s “What Leads to Happiness?” blog post (specifically the “Actions to Boost Happiness” section).

One final note – happiness isn’t a destination – it’s more like a rollercoaster. Being happy 100% of the time is unrealistic. The goal is to have more ups than downs.