In our society, happiness is considered a birthright, and yet living in the most successful societies in the history of the world, happiness seems to be in short supply. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, more than six million people suffer from a depressive disorder every year. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. If materialism is connected to happiness, why is unhappiness so prevalent?

Thomas Jefferson wrote in his first draft of the Declaration of Independence that we have the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of property.” The edit for the version we now use, “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness” was contributed by John Locke. Many people still believe that the pursuit of wealth and material gain is the primary cause of happiness. Sometimes it can feel like failure  to admit to not being happy, but many of us tolerate unhappiness in significant parts of our lives –  careers, relationships or simply wondering if there is “something more” to life.

It has only been in the past few decades that researchers have turned their attention to the study of happy, healthy people. Until that point, most of the mental health research was focused on pathology, or what goes wrong with the human mind. Here is what the latest research shows about happiness:

  • Material gain does not create lasting happiness. Once you reach a certain level of earnings to cover your bills, a place to live, a car and other necessities, money is not much of a factor in your happiness. Happiness is the result of emotional satisfaction and not from the accumulation of material objects or wealth.
  • You can increase your happiness. While genetics and painful life experience affect your happiness, by learning certain skills, you can become a happier person. Researchers call this adjusting your set point for happiness.
  • Experiences create more happiness than objects. We are happier when actively involved in life. Money spent on vacations creates more happiness than the purchase of a bigger house or a new car. Often, supporting expensive possessions causes more stress and unhappiness is the end result. Other ways to create happiness is spending time with people you love or experiencing activities like plays or sporting events, depending on your interests.
  • Successful relationships increase happiness. Happily married people are the most satisfied with their lives. They tend to live longer and be more successful. Strong social connections are another to create happiness.
  • The happiest people possess certain qualities. The happiest people tend to not worry, are social, flexible, adaptable and conscientious. The researchers at the Positive Psychology Center attribute happiness to an optimistic attitude.

The good news about happiness is that all of these factors are under your control. You can increase your happiness by learning certain skills that increase your set point for happiness. Even genetic factors and early life experiences can be managed so that your happiness is not affected.

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