Happiness makes money! What makes us happy?

Let’s get money out of the way. It does have an influence. David Myers, a professor of psychology at Hope College and author of The Pursuit of Happiness: Who is Happy, and Why? says, “There is some correlation [between money and happiness], but it tapers off once you reach a middle income standard of living that affords some control over your life circumstances.” In other words, as soon as we have enough money to take care of our basic needs such as food, clothing and housing, the amount of money we have no longer affects our happiness levels.

“We’re twice as rich as we were 50 years ago, but we’re not happier at all,” he continues. That said, a 2006 survey by the Pew Research Center showed half of the wealthiest respondents described themselves as “very happy” compared to 30 percent of those with family incomes of less than $30,000 a year.

The most important influencer of happiness, Myers says, is other people. “We’re social animals,” he says. “We come with a deep need to belong. So people who have close, supportive, intimate relationships with others are more likely to report themselves as really happy people.”


Then there’s the matter of goals. Michael B. Frisch is a professor of psychology at Baylor University and co-author of Creating Your Best Life. “All the research shows having some over-arching goals, meaning and purpose in your life is essential to human happiness,” he says. “People without a sense of purpose or meaning aren’t as happy.”

How to find happiness

Frisch says it’s important to have quite specific goals, including within your relationships. “High functioning couples have time every day for each other, and [happy] people in the work world tend to be very focused and hard working.” He says both sets of people tend to be happier and more successful at marriage or work because they’ve committed to set objectives within each arena.

But David Myers has a caveat: goals must be realistic. “Frustration and unhappiness are partly defined by the gap between expectations and attainments,” he says. And that big dream, such as landing a longed-for job or buying a car you’ve coveted for years? Sure, achieving it will bring a surge of happiness, but it won’t last because, Myers says, we are wired to adapt to the new situation. “The other thing is social comparison. As you achieve your dream, the comparison standards you’re using change—you begin to compare yourself to people who have a little more than you do.” Envy starts creeping in, and happiness levels dip.