Not only do people rank the pursuit of happiness as one of their most cherished goals in life but happiness appears to have various positive effects that benefit society at large.
Happy people succeed in making this world a better place through their optimism, energy, originality, and altruism.
Actively pursuing happiness is therefore not a selfish act but rather the means to make our own life meaningful and worthwhile as we make a positive difference in the lives of many.
So what do we need to be happy?
Much research has been conducted on the impact of money in our level of well-being. It appears that having a higher income can make a substantial difference for people whose basic needs are not being met. However, for middle and upper-income people, studies have found that acquiring more wealth is not likely to significantly enhance happiness over the long-term.
It seems that our material desires increase with our incomes. In other words, the more we have the more we want.
If money is not the answer, what is it that we need then for sustainable happiness?
Research has found there are three fundamental building blocks (considered psychological needs) to attain happiness and well-being.
Believing that we are the cause of our own actions empowers us to live our lives in a way that we find meaningful and satisfying. Autonomy is the freedom and power that makes us feel alive knowing that we are the creators of our own destiny and that life is a canvas we can paint as we please.
In order to be happy, we need to be the authors of our own life story. If we base our decisions on what others think then we’ll be living their lives and not ours. Other people’s thinking is a projection of their own life, their own mistakes, their own fears. So don’t make them yours.
Our heart knows more than we give it credit for. It is all that knowledge outside our conscious awareness that makes us wise when it comes to ourselves. So have the courage to own your life and follow your heart. It will make you happier than you can imagine.
To be happy we need to feel capable and effective in our actions. Trusting our ability to accomplish whatever we set our mind to do is a powerful motivator. Feeling competent gives us the confidence we need to pursue the life of our dreams.
People’s level of motivation, emotions, and actions have been found to be based more on what they believe than on what is objectively true. So believe in yourself. Beliefs move mountains.
And remember that skills and abilities can be developed, so when faced with self-doubt, take action to improve whatever it is you feel you are lacking. Read a book, take a class, or practice until you get your confidence back. The more competent you feel, the happier you’ll be.
Human beings are social by nature and need intimate contact with others. As much as we need to be autonomous to be happy, we also need to feel connected. Feeling supported and loved by the people close to us makes us feel we are cared for in an otherwise lonely world.
Although never in detriment of our own genuine individuality, we need to nurture our social bonds and feel we are part of something bigger than ourselves (our relationships, our family, our community).
The need to belong does not make us weak but only human. So cherish emotionally deep relationships with others. In the words of William James, “We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.”
Diener, E., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2002). Will money increase subjective well-being? Social Indicators Research, Vol. 57, pp. 119-169.
Lyubomirsky, S. (2001). Why are some people happier than others?: The role of cognitive and motivational processes in well-being. American Psychologist, 56, 239-249.
Sheldon,K.M., Elliot, A.J., & Kim, Y., Kasser, T. (2001). What Is Satisfying About Satisfying Events? Testing 10 Candidate Psychological Needs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 80, No. 2.