What Happy People Have in Common

Three young women kicking water and laughing on the beach
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Happiness is an age-old and sometimes elusive goal. Virtually all people want to be happy people, which is good, because happy people are better off, for reasons both obvious and subtle. Obviously, it feels good to be happy. But, looking deeper, happy people tend to enjoy benefits that unhappy people don’t, and, thanks to research from the field of positive psychology, we know more about some of these subtle differences.

For one thing, they tend to enjoy more successes in life. You may be thinking that happiness and success go hand-in-hand because success causes happiness, not the other way around. Researchers Julia Boehm and Sonja Lyubomirsky at the University of California in Riverside thought about this, too.

Seeing that happy people tended to earn more money, display a superior performance, and help others more often, they set out to test the hypotheses that happiness causes success. They found happiness is indeed associated with (and precedes) several successful outcomes, including higher earnings and greater performance, as well as behaviors that go along with success like helping others. Their research also found that the relationship goes both ways: Success brings happiness, but happiness actually does bring success, too.

Another benefit that happy people share is good health. Studies have found that happy people experience lower levels of cortisol in their saliva, lower blood pressure, lower ambulatory heart rate in men, and reduced neuroendocrine, inflammatory, and cardiovascular activity. All this leads to greater health, which is definitely something to be happy about.

What Makes Happy People Happy

So, what makes happy people, well, happy people? It seems that happy people tend to have a few things in common. Very happy people are found to be very social and have stronger romantic and social relationships with others than less-happy people. Research has also found happy people to be energetic, decisive, creative, social, trusting, loving, and responsive. Rather than being strongly linked to external characteristics like socioeconomic status, gender or age, happiness is more positively associated with having a philosophical view of life, using laughter and humor, being able to relate to others, having problem-solving skills, engaging in meaningful pursuits and leisure activities, living in a positive environment, and maintaining a well-balanced lifestyle.

Positive psychology research also illuminates specific activities that can bring feelings of happiness. Performed regularly, these activities can lead people with a lower "happiness setpoint" to increase their regular levels of positive affect (good mood) and happiness in general. These activities include:

  • Delayed gratification: putting off what we want now so that we can perhaps get something else (something better) later on.
  • Flow: a mental state in which you're completely immersed and involved in an activity
  • Pleasure: doing what feels good, feeling a sense of satisfaction, self-care, fulfilling desires, experiencing enjoyment

Secrets to Being Happy

There are several routes to happiness. Some are quick and bring immediate positive feelings, and others take more time and bring lasting and repeated feelings of happiness. The following resources bring several strategies from both categories, which can help you become and stay one of the world’s happy people.

  • Happiness shortcuts: Here are some quick strategies that can help you feel an instant burst of happiness right now.
  • How to be happy: Here are some more long-term strategies for attaining happiness in your life.
  • Does your lifestyle make you happy? Just because you're doing everything right, doesn't mean it's making you happy. Take this quiz to find out if how you're living is actually working against your efforts to be happy.
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