The United Nations has declared March 20th to be World Happiness Day where nations are encouraged to explore how well they see to the overall well-being of their people. At the heart of World Happiness Day is the World Happiness Index, that looks at six factors that determine the relative happiness level of a country’s citizens; productivity, healthy life expectancy, social connectedness (having people to count on), perceived freedom to make healthy choices, perceived freedom from corruption/injustice, and generosity.
Here are 7 things you need to know to increase your experience of happiness on World Happiness Day!
1. What is happiness? Research shows that there are two kinds of happiness: Pleasure-Based Happiness (hedonic happiness) and Value-Based Happiness (eudaimonic happiness). Pleasure-based happiness is represented by the pursuit of fun, pleasure, and the attempt to avoid stress. People who pursue value-based happiness pursue meaningful work and roles, intimate relationships, and a virtuous life. Research shows that people who pursue value-based happiness lead healthier lives, have more satisfying relationships, and exhibit greater life-satisfaction than people who pursue pleasure-based happiness. It turns out, the pursuit of meaningfulness, intimacy and virtue is the key to true joy and authentic happiness.
2. You control about half your happiness level. Although the exact level will vary from individual to individual, it appears that up to about 50 percent of our happiness levels are preset by genetics or our environment (called our happiness set-point). But that’s good, because it also means that about 40 to 50 percent of our happiness is within our power to raise or lower.
3. Money doesn’t buy happiness. Once we get to a certain level of income that is enough to pay our bills and keep us in the lifestyle we’ve grown accustomed to, more money doesn’t result in more happiness. The only two exceptions to this rule is if you give money away, or if it significantly improves your social rank. People who give money away appear to sustain greater levels of happiness over time than those who don’t.
4. Miracles Don’t Buy Happiness Either. Winning the lottery and other miraculous windfalls make people happy in the moment, but that happiness fades fairly quickly and then people return to their prior level of happiness (usually within 6 months). Studies of people who have won the lottery appear to be no more happy than those who haven’t in the long run. Real happiness comes from being able to enjoy the little blessings of everyday life (see #7 below), not from hoping for “the big break” that will finally allow us to be happy.
5. Relationships are a key factor in long-term happiness.While research has demonstrated that this effect is strongest for married people, other research has shown that strong social connections with others are important to our own happiness. The more of these you have, generally, the happier you will be. And while marriage is significantly correlated with increased happiness, it has to be a strong, healthy marriage in order for that to be true.
6. Focus on experiences, not stuff. People who spend their time and money on doing things together — whether it be taking a vacation to someplace other than home or going on an all-day outing to the local zoo — report higher levels of happiness than those who buy a bigger house, a more expensive car, or more stuff. That’s likely because our memories keep an emotional photograph of the experience, whereas the material things don’t make as big an emotional imprint in our brains. So ditch buying so much stuff for yourself or your kids — you’re only buying artificial, temporary happiness.
7. Be Grateful. As I note above, it can be difficult to increase your happiness set-point, but research shows that practicing gratitude has the power to raise your happiness set-point by as much as 20%. Taking time to write down your blessings, write a thank you note, to praise God, or make a habit of saying “thank you” to people even for the little things can make you a much happier person.
People have a lot of ideas about what it takes to be happy, but these research-based ideas reveal the truth about how we were made to live. As our Christian tradition teaches, happiness doesn’t come merely from the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of conflict. It comes from pursuing a meaningful, intimate, and virtuous life that identified by a generous spirit, and open mind, and a grateful heart. If you’d like to discover God’s plan for authentic happiness, check out this video or pre-order Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart.