What Do We Really Know About What Makes Us Happy?

Do we really know what truly makes us happy? The evidence suggests yes, most of the time. For instance, the happiness people report on their happiness surveys is based on several highly subjective measures — like feeling good in general and feeling like they’re on the upswing compared with their past and future lives. The fact that these measures are largely subjective — which can skew a people’s perception of their current situation — means the true source of happiness is more likely to be in our actions and in our interactions with others.

To start, you have to ask: Why do we care what makes us happy? So many people feel that happiness is something that is handed to them from people in general, through the media and through their peer group (or whatever). However, happiness is more than a personality trait or a set of behaviors. It’s a state of mind that leads to a state known as flourishing, a feeling of well-being, optimism and peace of mind.

A good measure of one person’s flourishing is by how satisfied they are with life. What we all want for ourselves is our goals. If we meet and get those goals, our lives should be great. If we don’t, we’re going to feel a degree of disappointment when it comes to happiness, success, relationships and relationships with others. When we feel like we’re falling short, it makes us more likely to be unhappy.

When I asked students if they thought they had a flourishing state of mind, the answer was a resounding no. Instead, nearly four in five students said that they didn’t feel fulfilling in any situation.

For the third piece of research, the researchers used a simple scale known as the Life Value Scale (LVSS), a 10-item, self-report measure that has been used to measure emotional well-being since the 1980s. Participants completed the LVSS on a questionnaire that included questions about their lives and their thoughts about life. The findings revealed some interesting differences between individuals who lived in different states of fulfillment.

Sixty-one percent of those in the happiest states of mind (the highest happiness reported by participants) were satisfied with their lives, compared to 32 percent whose lives were the least happy. It’s not that happiness is a zero sum game; we’re happy when we’re happy and we’re sad when we’re sad. Just like with positive and negative reinforcement, you’re only happy when you get something.

That’s why, again, this is a state of mind versus self: it’s not a person who’s at a higher level of fulfilled life on the outside that’s making you feel better about our lives on the inside. The fact remains that we all find what makes us happy — and this is something everyone can control. So if you want to be happy, start thinking of happiness in terms of what you can control.

For some individuals, that means changing their behavior or, in the case of addiction, a different mindset. For others, they may want to try something new. For even larger part of the population, though, the key to happiness lies in our social interactions. Whether our goal is to be happier at work, happier at school, more successful in relationships or more successful in life — whatever we’re trying to achieve, life is good when we find people to be happier with us.

The researchers conclude in a summary of what they found that if we want to be happy, we should be less focused on what other people in our lives are doing and more focused on what makes us happy. And that means changing the way we respond to the world rather than feeling powerless when someone or something frustrates us — rather, get up from our chair, check Twitter and Instagram or go for a walk.

To be happy — as researchers see it — is to be happy with who we are, not where we are or what others might think of us.

If that’s true of what you want for yourself, it can also be very empowering. If you want to be happy, you have control over it. Happy people have made a difference, and happy businesses and happy people thrive.