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  • Meaningful Vitality

What is happiness and life satisfaction?

Updated: Apr 13, 2023

Most individuals would say that they strive to be happy, find satisfaction in life, and enjoy the things they take part in. And with mental health issues including depression on the rise which seems to be harder and harder for some individuals to achieve (1), Happiness is something that many struggles to define and in reality that makes sense as happiness, life satisfaction, and success varies from person to person. However, finding true happiness and satisfaction is a goal most strive to achieve throughout their life. In order to achieve a goal it is best to define what it means to you as well as have a plan in which to get to that goal. There are many different studies on happiness as happiness is so subjective it is not very easily defined.

Two lifelong studies that have taken place through Harvard Medical School are some of the biggest and most cited sources when it comes to happiness. They are known as the Grant study as well as the Glueck study they’ve studied the long-term health and happiness of adults starting from a very young age. The study is very fascinating and there are lots of different points that have been made but specifically on happiness it has been concluded that good, secure, and healthy relationships both romantically and with friends or family have been shown to be the biggest contributor to health and happiness. Those that have these in their life are more likely to find enjoyment and higher life satisfaction as well as live longer and have less health problems.

Relationships have been correlated with higher rates of happiness as well. The reason for this is that they have people in their life that they can share positive situations, experiences, and news as well as have people they can go to to find support (2). Those that are in relationships for longer periods of time often find higher rates of satisfaction in those relationships both romantic relationships and friendships. Those that have been in a committed relationship romantically for a long period of time such as more than 30 years show some of the greater rates of satisfaction in those relationships as well as happiness.

An article on psychology today discussed how being happy means living with mindfulness, meaning, and purpose (3). This makes a lot of sense and is even why my motto is “helping people live a healthy and meaningful life“. Those that find meaning and purpose have a reason to get out of bed each and every morning, they have things to look forward to and have a reason to be alive. Finding meaning differs from person to person but when one finds it, life just seems to make sense. Also, the idea of mindfulness means living in the moment. If one is living more in the moment they are not thinking about the anxieties of tomorrow or the depression that might’ve taken place in the past. This is much easier said than done but when one is able to achieve this idea they find much success when it comes to being happier in life.

At times those who may have severe anxiety or depression may not be able to overcome these things on their own. Yes, healthy habits and routines can be very beneficial to help with these things but at times working with a mental health counselor may be the best route to take.

Finding things in your life that give you meaning or purpose is also important. This may differ from person to person but can include your job, your relationships, and hobbies. When you have a purpose you have a reason to get out of bed each day you have a reason to be alive and things to be thankful for, a lot easier. It is important to at least consider your job as something that you will enjoy. We spend 40 hours (at least at work) you might as well enjoy it!



I have talked in great detail in the past about the gift of knowing yourself and being confident in who you are. This is a process and a journey that everyone should continue on throughout their life, however, those that are more confident with who they are or more likely to experience happiness as they typically have higher levels of self-concept, self-esteem, and self-awareness (4). Those that have happiness in their life typically have a higher concept of self and how they view themselves (5). They typically are more confident in who they are and know both their strengths and limitations that they may have. This is important to know as part of this process may be working with a professional counselor in order to be more confident in these areas as well as in your own goals and values. Also having friends or close relationships in which you can be open can be very beneficial as well. This makes sense as those that can be open with other people may have less anxiety in their life and feel more confident in those relationships. If you do not have people with whom you can be open it brings up the question of whether can someone really love or appreciate you if they don’t know everything about you.

Society and culture play a part in happiness as well. This can be linked to the location such as those that have more opportunities may be able to find enjoyment than in areas where those that were born into poverty or are in an area that may experience lots of violence or war may have higher levels of stress which may make it difficult to experience happiness. Also, some cultures may encourage certain activities or ways of life that bring about more happiness whereas others may make individuals feel more controlled or have less freedom in their choices which makes happiness harder to experience for those individuals (6).

Those that have higher rates of happiness are typically more resilient and able to work through hardships in their life in a more positive way (7). When things do go poorly they typically have a more positive attitude or outlook on life and the negative experiences do not get them down as much. Ways in which people can increase this area in their life include surrounding themselves with more positive and optimistic people, practicing gratitude in their life as well as noticing the language they use when talking to themselves or when they make a mistake.

One's perspective on life cannot be ignored either when it comes to experiencing happiness. Those that typically have a more optimistic outlook experience higher rates of happiness whereas those that have more negative outlook‘s may find it difficult to experience happiness 3. This can be a learned trait in regard to one’s culture, family, or surroundings as well as those that may have experienced hardship may have a more negative outlook on life. This is something that individuals are able to develop as well if they struggle with it by practicing certain gratitude or affirmations as well as working through past traumas with a trained professional or hardships they experienced in order to be more optimistic moving forward.

Being in good health is typically correlated with higher rates of happiness and life satisfaction (8). This makes sense as those that are in good health typically are able to do more with their body as well as exercise has been shown to lower rates of anxiety and depression (9). When trying to live a happy and fulfilling life being active is very important. Also taking care of your body in other ways such as eating well and getting enough sleep helps you to feel better overall and have the energy to do the things that you want to do.

Those that have some sort of religion or spirituality in their life typically have higher rates of happiness and are able to find more meaning in their life (10). Although spirituality differs from person to person generally those that have some sort of spiritual belief in something greater than themselves have higher rates of happiness, life satisfaction, and meaning in their life.



Money has been linked to happiness as well regardless of the popular saying that money can’t buy happiness (11). The reason for this is not because of some of the luxuries that those with money are able to afford. Instead, it is because those that have more money are able to structure their life in a way in which they have less stress. Examples of this may be ordering takeout when on a time crunch for dinner after work or hiring people to do things around your house such as clean the house, cut the grass, or do other projects whereas those that may not have that opportunity may stress out in these areas and have to do it themselves or at least try to make time for it. Also, those that are more financially secure with money do not have to worry as much about the stress of making ends meet. When it comes to occupation the most important factor in determining happiness is if the individual feels as if they are doing what they are supposed to be doing in that stage of life. Having a job that one is passionate about and enjoys doing is even more important than salary when thinking of happiness or life satisfaction (12,13).

Those that are happy according to the Grant and Gluek study have very little conflict or stress in their life at least that they perceive. This could be because of the way they view the world around them as well as how they handle stress or deal with conflict. When talking about stressful romantic relationships the stuff that has suggested that it is very hard to have a close and warm relationship with someone whom you’re constantly in conflict with and that adds strain in both the relationship as well as how they feel about themselves and of the world around them. Learning how to manage stress as well as work through past hardships or traumas. In this case, sometimes working with a trained professional can be very helpful especially if they are severe traumas to work through or if you have trouble being more optimistic on your own.

Spending time on technology or increased prolonged use of phones can add to bigger rates of depression and lower rates of happiness in one’s life or that they experience (14). Individuals that spend more time on their phones are shown to have lower rates of happiness and life satisfaction as well as higher rates of anxiety and depression.

Conclusion and takeaways

Happiness and life satisfaction differ from person to person as everyone has different ideals, goals, and experiences. With that said there are still some important things to be sure to remember and apply to your own life.

  1. Relationships with others are very important and should be prioritized for those wanting to live a happy, satisfied, and fulfilling life. It is by having relationships with others that our life typically has more meaning and we are able to better grow and express ourselves. This can be with a romantic partner, friends, and family members. It is a gift to be able to have relationships in your life that you can be yourself around

  2. Having good overall health greatly increases one's happiness that they experience. Being in good health helps one to do the things they enjoy and exercise has also been linked to lowering depression.

  3. Money might not be able to buy happiness but it can help one to have less stress and to be able to afford things that may take the stress off their plate.

  4. Having a good perspective in life as well as finding meaning helps one to be happier in life. Those that have a positive outlook are able to see things in a more optimistic way which helps them to be happier overall. Finding a reason to get out of bed every morning or enjoy life helps bring overall happiness.

  5. Those that have higher rates of happiness have lower rates of conflict or stress. They are also better at managing it and know when to seek outside help such as talking with a friend or a professional.


References:

  1. Mekonen T, Chan GCK, Connor JP, Hides L, Leung J. Estimating the global treatment rates for depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Affect Disord. 2021 Dec 1;295:1234-1242. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2021.09.038. Epub 2021 Sep 17. PMID: 34665135.

  2. Conkle, A. (2008, August 1). Serious research on happiness. Association for Psychological Science - APS. Retrieved January 9, 2023, from https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/serious-research-on-happiness

  3. Sussex Publishers. (n.d.). The Science of Happiness. Psychology Today. Retrieved January 9, 2023, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/happiness/the-science-happiness

  4. Szymanski LS. Happiness as a treatment goal. Am J Ment Retard. 2000 Sep;105(5):352-62. doi: 10.1352/0895-8017(2000)105<0352:HAATG>2.0.CO;2. PMID: 11008843.

  5. Garaigordobil M, Pérez JI, Mozaz M. Self-concept, self-esteem and psychopathological symptoms. Psicothema. 2008 Feb;20(1):114-23. PMID: 18206073.

  6. Ye, D., Ng, Y.-K., & Lian, Y. (2014). Culture and happiness. Social Indicators Research, 123(2), 519–547. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-014-0747-y

  7. Aboalshamat, K., Jawhari, A., Alotibi, S., Alzahrani, K., Al-Mohimeed, H., Alzahrani, M., & Rashedi, H. (2017). Relationship of self-esteem with depression, anxiety, and stress among dental and medical students in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Journal of International Medicine and Dentistry, 4(2), 61–68. https://doi.org/10.18320/jimd/201704.0261

  8. Steptoe, A. (2019). Happiness and health. Annual Review of Public Health, 40(1), 339–359. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-publhealth-040218-044150

  9. Mikkelsen, K., Stojanovska, L., Polenakovic, M., Bosevski, M., & Apostolopoulos, V. (2017). Exercise and mental health. Maturitas, 106, 48–56. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.maturitas.2017.09.003

  10. Deb, S., Thomas, S., Bose, A., & Aswathi, T. (2019). Happiness, meaning, and satisfaction in life as perceived by Indian university students and their association with spirituality. Journal of Religion and Health, 59(5), 2469–2485. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10943-019-00806-w

  11. More proof that money can buy happiness (or a life with less stress). HBS Working Knowledge. (2022, January 25). Retrieved January 10, 2023, from https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/more-proof-that-money-can-buy-happiness

  12. Bradt, G. (2022, October 12). The secret of happiness revealed by Harvard Study. Forbes. Retrieved January 10, 2023, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/georgebradt/2015/05/27/the-secret-of-happiness-revealed-by-harvard-study/?sh=613fd6036786

  13. You don't have to quit your job to find more meaning in life. HBS Working Knowledge. (2022, September 21). Retrieved January 10, 2023, from https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/you-dont-have-to-quit-your-job-to-find-more-meaning-in-life

  14. Jaques N, Taylor S, Azaria A, Ghandeharioun A, Sano A, Picard R. Predicting students' happiness from physiology, phone, mobility, and behavioral data. Int Conf Affect Comput Intell Interact Workshops. 2015 Sep;2015:222-228. doi: 10.1109/ACII.2015.7344575. Epub 2015 Dec 7. PMID: 28515966; PMCID: PMC5431070.


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