What Makes People Happy? Five Factors For True Happiness

There have been countless studies about happiness. Books have been written, films have been made and songs have been sung. There even is an annual International Day of Happiness, declared by the United Nations: The 20th March. It was founded in 2012 by UN adviser Jayme Illien, who claims that the pursuit of happiness should not only be a UN Resolution but also acknowledged as a human right and fundamental human goal. But how do we actually achieve this ideal of true happiness?

People are forever on the hunt for the perfect recipe that ensures a lifetime of true happiness. The results may differ but one thing, they all have in common: It’s often a lot simpler than we think it is.

What matters most is the difference between what people think will make them happy and what actually does. Often, these two differ immensely and a little reflection on what we, as human beings, really need, is more often than not all it takes to discover the key to true happiness.

Sure, special events or big purchases can temporarily send us on an absolute high, but what this article is going to be about is quintessential happiness. A constant level of contentment, a basic level of being free of care.

“Happiness, it seems to me, consists of two things: first, in being where you belong, and second – and best – in comfortably going through everyday life, that is, having a good night’s sleep and not being hurt by new shoes.” Theodor Fontane, German novelist and poet

Imagine you only had the following five things in your life. Would you be happy?

1. Financial security

Whilst at first sight, this might differ depending on the lifestyle that is led, the basic assumption here is that some form of financial security leads to happiness. Being able to cover basic needs is essential for a feeling of comfort and safety. The interesting part: True happiness does not increase with an increasing income. Materialism and quintessential happiness are not linked at all, meaning someone who flies First Class and drives an expensive car is not necessarily happier than someone who flies Economy (or who doesn’t fly at all) and drives a ten-year-old car (or doesn’t drive a car at all).

2. A home

A roof over your head, a bed to sleep in and food to keep you full. A safe place to come home to and to seek shelter in adds to the feeling of purpose and comfort. Our happiness island gives us peace of mind that there is a place to run to, which feels familiar and, well, makes us happy.

3. Social contacts

There are introverts and extroverts in the world. Whilst the latter thrives on social engagement, being surrounded by people and expressing themselves openly, the former enjoys their own company the most. That doesn’t mean that they don’t need social contacts, though.

Family, friends and a loving partner are basic needs of any human being. According to a long-term study carried out at Harvard, a social group of friends is the one thing that makes every person happier. This does not mean that there has to be an extensive array of people to choose from; a mere handful of the right people can be enough. The definition of how many social contacts are enough is up to each individual.

As French novelist Marcel Proust put it, “Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

4. A job that fulfils and challenges you

Closely linked with financial security is employment. It provides us with hopefully enough income to make us feel secure and comfortable, but what it should also provide us with is a challenge and fulfilment. A job where you feel unappreciated and which is unrewarding will not make you happy in the long run. Instead, we seek to be useful and help our team or the company to progress. Being part of something bigger and knowing that we contributed to the achievement of a goal does make us happier. As it is colloquially said, “Happiness is the only thing that doubles when you share it.”

5. Good health

For some, this should probably be on top of the pyramid but this list is by no means a ranking. Health and not having to worry about it is a gift and immensely contributes to a person’s true happiness. It is not without reason that on birthday cards and wedding well-wishes, we wish someone a ‘healthy, happy life’. The two are closely intertwined – not least because health is essential for a long life in the first place.


There might never be a definite answer to the question of what constitutes happiness. But one thing is sure: Materialism and an ever-growing collection of things is not one of them. The answer seems to lie in counting our blessings and focussing on the simple yet meaningful parts of life.

Make sure you check out the rest of the articles in our series on happiness:


Photo courtesy of pixabay
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