Are you happy? And how do you decide that bit of personal truth?
One’s happiness is a question — and a quest — that’s been around since the human heart first pondered personal joy and satisfaction.
If happiness is your personal goal, there is no shortage of experts, including researchers, religious scholars and others, who have pondered the subject and come up with various recipes to achieve it.
Here are five different views of happiness. May one of them — or all of them — light you up.
Take care of your relationships
Robert Waldinger, director of the 84-year-long (so far) Harvard University Study of Adult Development, has garnered 44 million views for his 2015 TedX Talk on happiness, and puts nurturing relationships high on the list of things that create happy people.
The Guardian recently quoted Waldinger: “What we find is that if people maintain a network of good relationships, they’re likely to weather the storms and they’re more likely to be happy,” he said.
Waldinger and Marc Schulz co-wrote the just-released book, “The Good Life.”
Other things matter, too, he notes, including being healthy and having enough economic security that you’re not struggling to meet basic needs. But money itself won’t make you happy, he’s said.
As the Deseret News reported, citing Waldinger last spring, quality relationships more than genetics determine longevity. As the article said, “strong social connections are linked to better physical and mental health, coping skills, sleep quality and much more.”
Forgive to find happiness
If you’re holding onto old wounds, you’re not likely to be very happy, according to a 2022 study by Turkish researchers published in Current Psychology. They found that the more able a person was to practice forgiveness, the less negative emotions they harbored, including anxiety and depression. Forgiveness proved to be a “positive predictor of individuals’ happiness level.” The relationship between forgiveness and happiness, the study authors wrote, is “significant.”
Have a sense of meaning and purpose
The late psychologist Ed Diener, who was nicknamed “Dr. Happiness,” previously told the Deseret News that happiness — “subjective well-being” is a more clinical term — provides benefits as diverse as physical and emotional health and longevity. The impact on health isn’t as big as not smoking, he said, but it’s bigger than simply eating your veggies.
It’s crucial, he said, to sense you’re connected to something bigger than yourself.
Diener wrote the book “Happiness” with Robert Biswas-Diener. And he said that people who are happier are more able to tackle problems that worry them. Happiness helps people survive negatives. For instance, “poverty loses some of its sting where there’s good social capital,” the article said.
In a 2017 study he led, published in Applied Psychology, researchers found benefits for employers — including less stealing, more productivity and job satisfaction, as well as better teamwork — when workers were happy.
No one’s really happy without supportive social relationships, he said. But Diener did note that people probably have a “happiness range” that’s based somewhat on genetics. But it’s possible to increase happiness in that range — and for some, happiness can increase a lot.
Support others and be kind
The World Happiness Report 2022 — the 2023 report is coming out March 20 — found light and darkness both during the pandemic. While COVID-19’s challenges brought pain and suffering, it also ushered in increased social support and benevolence.
The report is the work of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which uses Gallup World Poll data to ask people to evaluate the quality of their own lives, then considers six national factors to see how those might influence the assessments: per capita GDP, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity and the corruption in a country. The World Happiness report then assesses national happiness — as compared to individual happiness, which is a much more personal, unique and varied measure.
Happiness, in that report, is explained by life evaluations, but six factors help explain how people see their lives on a country-level basis, including GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity and corruption within a country, which is obviously a negative compared to the others’ potential to be positive.
Faith and other factors
People who hold religious or spiritual beliefs are happier than those who don’t, according to psychologist Catherine Sanderson, a professor at Amherst College who wrote “The Positive Shift: Mastering Mindset to Improve Happiness Health and Longevity.“ Years ago, she told The Washington Post that religious beliefs provide people with a sense of meaning and a social network, among other things.
But others more recently have made the same claim about faith or spirituality. Lisa Miller, a Columbia University professor and author of “The Awakened Brain,” likened spirituality to an antidepressant in a recent interview with Deseret News.
“I’m very interested in how recovery and renewal from depression, despair or hard times is often found through spiritual life,” she said. “And I’m very interested in how to help feed a more spiritually aware society. So I use science in collaboration with schools, with health and wellness initiatives and issues of human rights.”
Grow your own joy
Psychology Today offers some tips for being happy and signs of a happy person. They include embracing simple pleasures, being open to learning new things, being compassionate, taking care of yourself, feeling happy for other people, not registering “small annoyances,” a willingness to both give and receive, and living one’s values, among others.
One big secret, according to an article in Positive Psychology by Nicole Celestine, is to embrace good things. But trying too hard to be happy actually makes people unhappy. “It may be more effective to pursue ‘vague’ happiness goals than more specific goals,” writes Celestine, a behavioral scientist and writer from Perth, Australia.
She, too, cites a link between faith and happiness, noting that “faith is related to greater compassion. Those more compassionate individuals are more likely to provide emotional support to others, and those who provide emotional support to others are more likely to be happy.” That’s backed by a 2018 study in the Journal of Social Psychology.
Finally, a few odds and ends. Older Americans — ages 55 and up — tend to be happier than younger ones, according to findings based on the Happiness Index. Among perhaps less-obvious factors that lower happiness are poor air quality and more inequality. The index was developed by the Happiness Alliance to make surveying more uniform on the topic.