H = S + C +V*

H: Enduring level of happiness
S: Set Range
C: Circumstances of your life
V: Factors under your voluntary control

Today happy people are considered as those who possess the following:
– Young
– Good looking
– Well-paid
– Married
– Healthy
– Socially active
– Well educated

Studies have shown that beyond a safety net, additional income has little lasting effect on happiness. How important is money to you, more than money itself influences your happiness. People who value money more than other goals are less satisfied with their income and with their lives as a whole*.

Marriage on the other hand, has a huge impact on happiness. The National Opinion Research Center surveyed 35,000 Americans over the last thirty years; 40% of married people said they were “very happy,” while only 24% of unmarried, divorced, separated and widowed people said this*. However, among those in “not very happy” marriages, their level of happiness is lower than the unmarried or divorced, which points to the importance of marrying the right person. The causal effect of marriage on happiness isn’t clear-cut: does getting married make people happier or happy people are more likely to marry? In similar ways, people with a rich and fulfilling social life are happier. The very happy people spend the least time alone and the most time socializing, and they are rated highest on good relationships by themselves and also by their friends*. But again a causal effect can’t be determined.

If you think people who experience lots of negative emotions can’t be happy, you are wrong. Contrary to popular belief, having more than your share of misery does not mean you can’t have a lot of joy as well. Women, it has been well established, experience twice as much depression as men, and generally have more of the negative emotions. When researchers began to look at positive emotions and gender, they were surprised to find that women also experience considerably more positive emotion – more frequently and more intensely – than men do*. The relationship between negative and positive emotion is certainly not mutually exclusive, there is only a moderate negative correlation between the two.

People tend to become more health conscious as they age because without health you can’t enjoy life. As it turns out objective good health is barely related to happiness, what matters is our subjective perception of how healthy we are. Regular workout, healthy diet and sufficient sleep can all boost your subjective perception of being healthy.

Although academic discussion of faith indicted it as producing guilt, repressed sexuality, intolerance, anti-intellectualism, and authoritarianism, survey data consistently show religious people as being somewhat happier and more satisfied with life than nonreligious people. Being a devoted Christian for almost a quarter century, it’s my personal belief that the hope faith instills in people, the social network the church offers, and the abundant opportunities for one to use her signature strengths for higher causes are all extremely gratifying and they bring meaning and joy to one’s life.

To summarize, if you want to lastingly raise your level of happiness by changing the external circumstances of your life, you should get married (a robust effect, but perhaps not causal), acquire a rich social network (a robust effect, but perhaps not causal), get religion (a moderate effect), avoid negative emotion (only a moderate effect) and do things to make you feel healthier. And you don’t need to bother with making more money if you already enjoy a comfortable life, getting as much education as possible (no effect), or moving to a sunnier climate (no effect).

In reality, it is impractical or impossible to change some of the external factors and altogether they probably account for no more than between 8 and 15 percent of the variance in happiness. The very good news is that there are quite a number of internal circumstances that you can change (V variable in the happiness formula) and I’ll write about it in future posts.

*Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman