How to Find Happiness in Your Life

Research suggests four key strategies can help

Finding happiness is something that many people strive for, yet it can sometimes seem difficult or impossible to achieve. While happiness might feel elusive or out of your reach at times, that doesn't make it an impossible journey or goal to achieve. Knowing where to find happiness and which strategies to use can make it an achievable goal.

Or, it might be even simpler than that. Happiness might have been with you all along—you just may not have taken the time to realize it was much less complicated than you once believed.

You probably know it's not about driving the newest car or having the latest gadget. But, what is it that really drives happiness? Let's consider four studies from around the world to answer that question.

How to find happiness
Verywell / JR Bee  

Finding Happiness Requires Continual Effort

One study reporting on data from the British Household Panel Survey revealed an interesting set of findings on the roots of happiness.

What is it that makes us happy: getting what we want or having what we want? Paradoxically, it seems that it's not the state of "being married" that makes us the happiest, but rather dynamic events such as "starting a new relationship."

The same concept applies to how to find happiness in your job. "Getting a new job" had a greater effect on happiness than employment status. "Becoming pregnant" had a greater effect on happiness than "being a parent." Similarly, events such as "starting a new course," "passing an exam," or "buying a new house" were all also high on the happiness scale.

In contrast, events with a low relation to happiness included the end of a relationship, losing a job, and losing a parent. What does all this mean, and what is making people in Britain happy? Let's take a moment to figure this out.

Positive dynamic events seem to be key rather than static situations. While this may all sound a little superficial, it makes sense to some degree if you consider happiness to be a "momentary" state.

What can we glean from this study? If you want to pursue happiness in your life or stay positive, realize that there is always the possibility that some happy event is waiting around the corner for you.

And if you don't feel like waiting, go out and make something happy happen. As the quote from Abraham Lincoln goes, "The best way to predict your future is to create it."

Finding Happiness Involves Positive Support

Another study reported on data from the Framingham Heart Study conducted in Framingham, Massachusetts, which followed 4,739 people from 1983 to 2003. The Framingham study had the participants answer one interesting question: Does our happiness depend on the happiness levels of the people around us?

Startlingly, the results of the study showed that to be precisely the case.

People who are surrounded by happy people are more likely to become happy in the future.

What's more, the analysis revealed that this effect was the result of happiness spreading, not just an artifact of happy people tending to hang out with one another.

According to this study, if you have a friend who lives within a mile of you and that friend becomes happy, the odds of you also becoming happy increase by about 25%.

The same was true for spouses (up to 16% improvement), siblings living within a mile (up to 28%), and next-door neighbors (up to 70%). Interestingly, the happiness of coworkers was shown to have no effect on the happiness of those around them.

What does all this mean? Surround yourself with happy people as much as possible, because it's very likely that their happiness will spread to you.

Focus on Positive Memories When Finding Happiness

In an Australian study of over 300 young adults, it was shown that those who recalled memories about problem-solving (a time when you successfully managed a challenge) or about identity (something that shaped you to become the person you are today) showed decreased negative emotions and increased positive emotions, respectively.

These findings suggest that simply thinking back to a time in your life when you were overcoming a challenge or to a time when you went through a significant life experience that changed you for the better could be effective in boosting your mood, and therefore, your happiness.

Finding Happiness in What Really Matters

A 2019 study out of South Korea using data from the Korean General Social Survey (KGSS) showed that respondents prioritizing spirituality were the most likely to be happy, followed by those who valued social relationships (friends, family, neighbors).

People who placed the most weight on external achievements (money, education, work, leisure) were the least likely to be happy.

These findings suggest that the path to happiness in South Korea is not about all that glitters with gold—rather, going after goals related to collectivism or self-transcendence may be most important to boosting and preserving happiness. These results are consistent with those found in the field of positive psychology.

Quick Tips for Finding Happiness

If you're wondering how to find happiness alone, right now, know that it may be easier than you think. Here are some quick ways to get you feeling happier:

  • Exercise: One systematic review found that even as little as 10 minutes a day of exercise (or one day of exercise per week) goes a long way in boosting feelings of happiness.
  • Practice gratitude: Reflecting on what you're feeling grateful for (like a roof over your head, your best friend, or your dog) can boost feelings of well-being and combat stress.
  • Smile: One study found that the act of smiling actually increased feelings of happiness in participants. You might also try laughter yoga, or the practice of using breathwork to trigger laughter, which has the potential to reduce anxiety and depression.
  • Take a deep breath: Taking a deep breath—also called diaphragmatic breathing—promotes relaxation, and may even decrease cortisol in the body (known as the "stress hormone").

Press Play for Advice On Practicing Gratitude

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A Word From Verywell

It's clear that what makes you happy may depend on where you live in the world (although these are limited studies that looked at different concepts). The British valued positive change, Americans grew happy when those around them were happy, Australians became happy when remembering positive memories, and South Koreans were happiest when engaged in collectivistic and spiritual pursuits.

The common thread, however, is that happiness is ever-changing and your happiness meter can always be boosted. If you truly want to pursue happiness, surround yourself with positivity and see beyond your present circumstances to the bigger picture, both in terms of people and your place in the greater universe.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the 5 keys to happiness?

    Positive psychologist Martin Seligman suggests that there are five key elements that are critical for finding happiness:

    • Positive emotions: Joyful feelings including cheer and contentment
    • Engagement: Psychological connections including feeling absorbed, interested, and engaged in life
    • Relationships: Being socially integrated, supported, and cared for
    • Meaning: Feeling a sense of purpose and meaning in life
    • Accomplishment: Making progress toward goals and gaining a sense of achievement
  • What do you do when you can't find happiness?

    If you are struggling to find happiness, it is important to improve your sense of subjective well-being. Shifting your mindset, avoiding rumination, and engaging in healthy habits can play a part in improving your mood. Talking to a mental health professional can also help, particularly if you are experiencing symptoms of depression including low mood and a loss of pleasure in things you used to enjoy.

10 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  8. Yazdani M, Esmaeilzadeh M, Pahlavanzadeh S, Khaledi F. The effect of laughter Yoga on general health among nursing studentsIran J Nurs Midwifery Res. 2014;19(1):36-40.

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Additional Reading

By Arlin Cuncic, MA
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety." She has a Master's degree in psychology.