Who Is Happy?

Happiness is a driving force in our lives but who actually gets there? It seems that genetic predisposition, emotional coping tools and relationships are some of the defining characteristics of happy people. Happy people are resilient and not likely to become depressed even in the most trying of circumstances.

Ironically, some of the things we strive for in life don’t actually make us happier. Once you have enough income to live on, extra money doesn’t make much different to reported levels of happiness.

Traits of Happy People

Studies consistently identify four traits that are common to people identifying themselves as happy. For more detail, refer to Myers and Diener.

1. High Self Esteem

Self esteem is correlated with happiness. This is a good thing because most people have high self esteem. Studies show that most people consider themselves above average in a range of areas, including driving ability.

A bias towards thinking you are better than you are may contribute to general happiness in society. It is consistent with the fact that the vast majority of people at any time consider themselves to be at least mildly happy. Interestingly, the correlation between happiness and self esteem has been found to be stronger in individualistic cultures compared to more collectivist ones.

2. A Sense of Personal Control

It is a natural desire of humans and many other life forms to want a significant level of personal power. Being disempowered is demotivating and potentially dangerous because your life is under the control of others. There are numerous adverse effects from experiencing conditions such as imprisonment and strict order.

3. Optimistic

Optimism is uplifting and motivating, which is why optimists score better on measures of happiness. Being optimistic gives you hope in the most difficult of circumstances. It also gives you a sense of purpose because you have something positive to strive for.

4. Extroversion

Being extroverted is correlated with happiness, though the reasons are not well established. It may be partly because extroversion is a consequence of happiness. Positive experience with others contribute to a sense of well being and also encourages you to be more socially engaged.

Happiness and Social Connections

Humans are naturally social creatures, so it is unsurprising that happiness is linked to social connections. People who report having a number of people who they are close to and confide in are generally happier than others. Having good relationships can be comforting and gives a greater sense of life meaning.