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What Is Happiness?

Happiness is an electrifying and elusive state. Philosophers, theologians, psychologists, and even economists have long sought to define it. And since the 1990s, a whole branch of psychology—positive psychology—has been dedicated to pinning it down. More than simply positive mood, happiness is a state of well-being that encompasses living a good life, one with a sense of meaning and deep contentment.

Feeling joyful has its health perks, as well. A growing body of research also suggests that happiness can improve your physical health; feelings of positivity and fulfillment seem to benefit cardiovascular health, the immune system, inflammation levels, and blood pressure, among other things. Happiness has even been linked to a longer lifespan as well as a higher quality of life and well-being.

Attaining happiness is a global pursuit. Researchers find that people from every corner of the world rate happiness more important than other desirable personal outcomes, such as obtaining wealth, acquiring material goods, and getting into heaven.

How to Be Happy

Happiness is not the result of bouncing from one joy to the next; researchers find that achieving happiness typically involves times of considerable discomfort. Genetic makeup, life circumstances, achievements, marital status, social relationships, even your neighbors—all influence how happy you are. Or can be. So do individual ways of thinking and expressing feelings. Research shows that much of happiness is under personal control.

Regularly indulging in small pleasures, getting absorbed in challenging activities, setting and meeting goals, maintaining close social ties, and finding purpose beyond oneself all increase life satisfaction. It isn't happiness per se that promotes well-being, it’s the actual pursuit that’s key.

How Much Money Do You Need to Be Happy?

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Money is important to happiness, but only to a certain point; money buys freedom from worry about the basics in life—shelter, food, and clothing. However, research from the journal Nature Human Behavior shows that the sweet spot for yearly income is between $60,000 and $95,000 a year, not a million-dollar salary. Earnings above the $95,000 breaking point do not equate to increased well-being; a person earning $150,000 a year will not be necessarily as happy as a person earning a lot less. Happiness also levels off, just as the hedonic treadmill shows us—people return to their set point of well-being no matter how high moods rise or how low they dip.

Signs of the Happy Person

The happy person is not enamored with fancy material goods or luxury vacations. This person is fine with the simple pleasures of life—petting a dog, sitting under a tree, enjoying a cup of tea. Here are the signs of the happiest.

  • Does not feel entitled and has fewer expectations
  • Is not spiteful or insulting
  • Doesn’t hold grudges
  • Is open to learning new things
  • Is high in humility and patience
  • Doesn’t register small annoyances
  • Does not angst over yesterday and tomorrow
  • Exercises self-care
  • Smiles and laughs readily
  • Goes with the flow
  • Does not play games
  • Practices compassion
  • Gives and receives without torment
  • Is not a martyr or victim
  • Is always grateful
  • Is not stingy with their happiness
  • Enjoys healthy relationships
  • Is happy for other people
  • Has a healthy support network
  • Lives with meaning and purpose

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