What are the most important factors contributing to happiness?

Sonja Lyubomirsky: We tend to look for happiness in the wrong places. What we believe would make a huge difference in our lives actually, according to scientific research, makes only a small difference, while we overlook the true sources of personal happiness and well-being. Many of us think that moving into a bigger house, securing a promotion or pay raise, or flying first class will boost our happiness. But such pleasures are fleeting, leaving us no happier than we were before. The true keys to happiness lie in changing the way we think and behave, seeking out experiences such as savoring a beautiful moment and taking a picture of it, thanking a friend, writing a gratitude journal, or performing random acts of kindness. Such habits add up to create an upward spiral that boosts happiness.

Jim Harter: When we considered factors that explain both life evaluations and daily experiences, we found five areas that individuals can act on: career, social, financial, physical, and community. Career well-being is more than just having a job and it is relevant for people in all different life stages and situations...students, people who work in the home, people who are retired, self-subsistence farmers, and people in traditional work settings. It's really what you do with your life, how you spend your time, whether it is enjoyable and meaningful.

Ed Diener: Here's what I would say to an auditorium of average people from Iowa (or wherever), if they asked me how to increase one's happiness: We can't control our genes, so why worry about that? We can control our behavior and our thinking, so that's what we focus on. It's not a scientific argument. It's a practical argument. Some of the most powerful things we can do involve our relationships with others.

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi: If one wants to improve the quality of everyday life, happiness may be the wrong place to start. Other feelings are much more influenced by what one does, who one is with, or the place one happens to be. These moods are more amenable to direct change, and because they are also connected to how happy we feel, in the long run they might lift our average level of happiness. For instance, how active, strong, and alert we feel depends a lot on what we do—these feelings become more intense when we are involved with a difficult task, and they get more attenuated when we fail at what we do, or when we don't try to do anything. The quality of life does not depend on happiness alone, but also on what one does to be happy. If one fails to develop goals that give meaning to one's existence, if one does not use the mind to its fullest, then good feelings fulfill just a fraction of the potential we possess. True happiness involves the pursuit of worthy goals. Without dreams, without risks, only a trivial semblance of living can be achieved.

Published with permission of the National Geographic Society from the book Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way by Dan Buettner. Copyright© 2010 Dan Buettner. Available wherever books are sold.


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