What Makes People Happy?

By Val Silver

What makes people happy? Not usually what they think! We may get a rush of excitement when buying a new toy or something we think we have to have, but that fleeting emotion quickly wears off.

No, authentic happiness goes deeper. I believe what we really want when we seek happiness are not just those high moments, fun though they are at times, but rather a deep sense of joy and contentment that is part of our being.

This feeling is more like a gift inside us waiting to be opened than something we get outside ourselves. It comes with meeting the needs of our hearts as well as our biochemistry.

Understanding this and designing your life this way is a big secret to living happy.

Often when someone says, "I want to be happy", they are not satisfied with life and may be suffering from the grass is always greener on the other side syndrome. They make their happiness contingent on other people meeting their needs and on acquiring things outside themselves.

Buying into this myth is a big reason so many people are not satisfied with life.

This is no surprise since advertisers and well-meaning others condition us to believe that in order to live happy lives means we need more stuff and more money.

This belief plays into our hard-wiring. Your brain rewards you for acquiring things with a hit of feel good dopamine to encourage you to go out and acquire more.

Acquiring is a primal way of making ourselves 'bigger' and to define ourselves.Once we possess something, even as just an idea, our brains don't like to let it go.

But things aren't what makes people happy for long.

When the excitement of the 'hunt' is over, we are left with more items to store, pay for and maintain. Once the temporary thrill of acquiring wears off, we aren't much happier than before. So the cycle begins again.

My boys illustrated this truth perfectly when they were young. I'll never forget how excited they would be for weeks anticipating the purchase of their next 'must have' toy. As they held those treasures in their hands on the drive home,, all they could talk about was the next item they wanted. This happened again and again.

This truth is also illustrated in statistics that show rates of divorce, teen suicide and depression doubling since the 1950's, along with family income. One out of five women now takes anti-depressants.

Obviously, what makes people happy in the long run isn't stuff, financial abundance, or hinging our happiness star to others, but what is inside us.

happiness dwells in the soul

Research does show that having enough money to at least provide for your survival needs does buy a measure of contentment.  It offers sense of control of control over your life, which raises self-esteem and optimism, and makes you less reactive to the physical and mental health effects of stress.

Having plenty of money also frees you up to 'follow your bliss', allowing you more time in meaningful activities that foster happiness.

However, lack of excess financial resources is no reason to limit blissful moments in your life.

Authentic Happiness

Research shows that it is easier to live happy lives than you think. The good news is you don't have to look beyond yourself to experience contentment. The seeds of authentic happiness lie within you, waiting to be given what they need to grow and flourish.

If you are not satisfied with life, or you just want to raise your happiness quotient, see how many of these traits you have in common with happy people.

Happy people enjoy connections with other people.

What makes people happy is spending more time with family and friends than alone. They nurture relationships with other people, pets, nature and the Divine. They seek relationships with people that support and inspire them.

 family happiness

Many children naturally demonstrate authentic happiness. Their faces shine with joy at the simplest things, especially when shared with their family and friends.

They want nothing more than the significant grown-ups in their lives to read to them, play with them, and listen to them. They spend much time playing and talking with friends.

If you want to raise well-adjusted children (or grandchildren) who grow up to live happy healthy lives, the greatest gifts you can give them are your time and attention. Truth be told, adult relationships would benefit as well.

Happy people nurture their relationships by being kind to others, even when that kindness appears to be undeserved. They forgive readily and are thankful for who they are and what they have.

Happy people have a higher happiness potential.

What makes people happy isn't totally within their control. You may have heard of the weight set point. We have a happiness set point as well.

It may not seem fair but some people are genetically blessed with a higher happiness set point than others.

Your genes are responsible for half of your natural happiness potential.

That leaves the other half (or more) within your control. Of this, 10% is attributed to circumstances and 40% to your thoughts. When you take responsibility for your happiness, develop the traits of happy people, and use the happiness keys, your set point and overall happiness potential will rise.

Happy people don't try to keep up with others.

They emphasize their own strengths and talents and pursue personal growth and use their own yardstick to evaluate themselves.

These folks trust their higher self and their intuition, not the voice of the conditioned self that tells them their needs and wants aren't important.

They understand that nurturing their dreams and goals is vital to contentment. Engaging in meaningful activities, connecting with loved ones, and savoring life's simple pleasures is a priority.

what makes people happy

Happy people get absorbed in meaningful activities.

These are the kinds of creative activities that produce something tangible and visible or provide learning. As you get absorbed in your knitting, woodworking, cooking, or your favorite hobby you go into 'the flow'. The flow is a lightly hypnotic meditative alpha state that is so focused you tune out everything except what you are doing.

Because our brains are hard-wired for survival, it is programmed to desire and reward us for producing things and acquiring resources for survival.

Besides producing tangible visible items, your brain also rewards you for learning.

When you are mentally in the flow, and have 'aha moments', theta brain waves cause a release of feel good chemicals that reward you for learning.

People who are satisfied with their lives know that what makes people happy in the long run are enjoyable activities that are important to them and fulfill their life purpose. They keep surfacy, meaningless busywork to a minimum.

Happy people are resilient.

They accept that sometimes life throws a curve ball and adapt in the face of adversity, believing 'this too shall pass.'

Happy people take full responsibility for their responses and actions. They release themselves from the grip of past unhappiness and devote their energies to the present. They accept, forgive, find something to be grateful for, and then to do the next thing. They understand that what makes people happy is the state of mind within themselves, not their circumstances.

The key to what makes people happy is within your reach.

If you are saying to yourself, "I want to be happy", and are not satisfied with life, know that contentment is possible for you.

Cultivate the mindset and habits that help you create happiness in your life every day. Make time for what brings you joy every day. Make a life, not just a living. Embrace new experiences. Learn and keep growing. Happiness isn't the end goal, it's your state of mind as you live an authentic, meaningful life.

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