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What Makes People Happy?


Explanations > Emotions > Happiness > What Makes People Happy?

Correlates | Characteristics | So what


What makes you happy? What are the secrets that can lead to a happy life? Here's a summary.

Happiness correlates

Happiness has been correlated with the following list of externally visible effects.


Of course you can be unhappily married, but a lot of people are content with their marital lot. People in successful marriages are happier overall than people who are not.

There are many these days who are not married, but who are in stable, committed relationships. As long as this is effectively the same as marriage, then they also can be happier.


People who have rich social networks, with good friends who will help them out when they are down are generally happier. They have the pleasure of meeting people they trust and the sense of security in knowing there's always someone there who can help.


Living in a secure, prosperous democracy beats the alternatives. Having lots of money does not make you happier, but having enough to pay the bills and indulge a little certainly makes a difference.

Perceived prosperity is relative. I feel prosperous only if I have more than people who seem something like me. A poor man in one country can be a king in another.


Happy people are successful. Or is it the other way around? What we know is that if you are successful in marriage, friendship, income, work and health, then you are more likely to be happy.


People who follow a religion are generally happier than those who do not. Whether or not it is true, faith gives you security of knowing such comforts that you and yours will survive death and may be forgiven for your sins. It also gives meaning to lives and may well promote a healthy lifestyle.

Belonging to a religious group also adds the benefit of friends who are likely obliged by the religion to help out in times of need.


Sadness depresses the immune system as well as the mood. Happiness acts in the opposite way. Being healthy also sure beats being unhealthy. Happiness and health are thus a two-way causal street.


People who have had a happy past are more likely to have a happy present and future. On the other hand, people with bad experiences may well dwell on these, carrying the unhappiness forward with them. In this way, the past can create the future.

Happiness characteristics

Personality factors and other internal personal characteristics of individuals also can lead to greater happiness.


People who are optimistic, by definition feel happier now about the future as they assume things will be better than they likely will be, even in the face of a negative past.


People who are not bothered by the past or future can also just be happy in the present moment. Worry about the future is a common creator of unhappiness, and stopping worrying can give you a huge boost.


People who challenge themselves, seeking to learn and achieve find pleasure not only in reaching their goals but also in the struggle and focus to get there.

They often set both smaller and larger goals, enabling them to get a sense of achievement in each of the little steps along the way to the greater joy of achieving something significant.


People who are altruistic, caring for others and spending time helping them often find great happiness in this. Caring for others gets you out of yourself and stops you worrying. Seeing others who are less fortunate than you can also have a contrastive motivation.


Being true to yourself creates internal alignment and reduces inner conflict that prevents you from being truly happy. This helps to explain how caring works -- if you have an internal Values that says 'caring is right', then by caring for others you increase internal alignment.


People who are grateful for their lot in life and who show gratitude towards others for the things they receive have been found to be happier. Notably, thanks can be found in many religious prayers.


Those with a sense of fun and who can laugh, especially at themselves, are generally happier.

Laughing at yourself implies a sound sense of security with a reduced tendency to worry, which in turn contributes to happiness.


When people keep busy they are often happier than those who slow down, watch TV, surf the net and other less active things.

Activity reduces time for moping, adds interest and increases the chance of meeting others and finding happiness in new areas.

So what?

Find which of these is right for you and for others, and then use them in persuasive messages and actions.

See also

Alignment principle, Contrast principle


Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389


Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 111-131.


Seligman, M. (2002). Authentic Happiness: using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfilment. Arthur Pine Associates, USA


Lyubomirsky, S. & King, L. (2005). The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success?, Psychological Bulletin, 131, 6, 803–855


Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 111-131.


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