Want to Be Happy? Here Are a Few Paths to Pleasure

Research reveals several methods to boost your mood.

Posted Sep 19, 2019

We spend a lot of time as a society talking about how to be happy. A 2019 article in Travel and Leisure listed the happiest cities in the United States.[i] Topping the list was Plano, Texas, followed by Irvine, California and Madison, Wisconsin. Wallethub ranked the cities within specific categories. If you are most interested in emotional and physical health, head to San Jose, California. Are you happier with a strong sense of community? Settle in Fremont, California. If you are motivated by money, a steady job, and financial prosperity, pack your umbrella and head for Seattle, Washington.  

But as much as we might like to manipulate happiness through geography, we are not lucky enough to have that type of control over our emotions. And in fact, the Travel and Leisure statistics demonstrate there is no steady rhyme or reason to the happiness meter.

Looking at the nation´s biggest cities, the article reveals how some of our major metropolises weigh-in: San Francisco barely makes the top 10, Austin, Texas comes in at 14, San Diego at 18.  Much farther down the list are other major hubs: Washington D.C. (51), Dallas (68), Atlanta (79), Los Angeles (82), and New York (90).

But regardless of where you live, there are definite ways to improve your mood. Research ties happiness to several distinct factors, including friends, family, and fitness.   

Image by xxolgaxx from Pixabay
Source: Image by xxolgaxx from Pixabay

When Happiness Values Friends Over Finances 

Do people with less money value friends more? Apparently, the answer might be yes. Ji-eun Shin et al. (2019) in a piece entitled “You Are My Happiness” used a free association task to investigate what words come to mind in response to considering the concept of happiness.[ii] They found that the amount of social words, such as “love” and “family” provided in a link to happiness predicted the actual level of life satisfaction—although this association was moderated by the perception of financial status.

Interestingly, they found the link between holding a socially oriented view of happiness and life satisfaction to be significant for members of low socioeconomic status (SES), but not members of high SES. They conclude that considering the overlap between social relationships and money, the social aspect of happiness appears to hold a more central role for individuals with less money.  

Happiness is Relational 

Swantje Mueller et al. (2019) note that research increasingly reveals a link between personality and enjoying social relationships.[iii] Their investigation found that social interactions with others who are close were positively associated with a higher degree of momentary happiness, in addition to what the authors described as “higher levels of the target person’s extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness, and lower neuroticism.” They note that people higher in neuroticism received more of a benefit from socializing with friends than did their less neurotic counterparts.

Still, other research, recognizing the somewhat amorphous nature of happiness, revealed more specific emotional and social associations that link happiness to life satisfaction. 

Healthy and Happy

One interesting study investigated the link between leisure time and happiness.  Some might think such a link is obvious—who doesn´t enjoy the free time? Apparently, the association might be more complicated. As it turns out, the link might depend on what exactly you are doing with your free time.  

Allison Ross et al. (2019) in a piece entitled “The Association between Leisure Time Physical Activity and Happiness” found the link was mediated by perceived health.[iv] They specifically examined neighborhood physical activity. 

The authors sought to build upon previous research suggesting that leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) promotes happiness, by investigating how health indirectly impacts this relationship. They measured neighborhood LTPA because they recognize that most people engage in the most common types of LTPA, such as jogging or walking, within the vicinity of their residence.

Confirming their predictions, they found that neighborhood LTPA has the potential to create a subjective sense of happiness by promoting a perception of good health.

Well-Rounded Contentment

However we define it, happiness appears to be linked to a well-balanced life in terms of internal and external satisfaction. Friends, family, health, and wealth, all seem to play a part. Perhaps a winning strategy involves a bike ride or brisk walk with family or friends because it appears to be true that the best things in life are free.



[ii]Shin, Ji-eun. 2019. “You Are My Happiness: Socially Enriched Happiness Belief Predicts Life Satisfaction, Especially among the Poor.” Cognition and Emotion, March. doi:10.1080/02699931.2019.1591343.

[iii]Mueller, Swantje, Nilam Ram, David E. Conroy, Aaron L. Pincus, Denis Gerstorf, and Jenny Wagner. 2019. “Happy like a Fish in Water? The Role of Personality–situation Fit for Momentary Happiness in Social Interactions across the Adult Lifespan.” European Journal of Personality, March. doi:10.1002/per.2198.

[iv]Ross, Allison, Scott Cloutier, and Mark Searle. 2019. “The Association between Leisure Time Physical Activity and Happiness: Testing the Indirect Role of Health Perception.” Journal of Community Psychology, March.