How to Be Happy

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Did you know there's actually science showing that at max, only 10% of our happiness is dictated by money? Here's how to be happy with the other 90%.

I’ve known for a while that money isn’t the key to happiness.  Or at least not the whole key.  But did you know there’s people that have actually researched the psychology of happiness?  With psychology being essentially the study of why people do what they do, these people have literally been studying why happy people are happy for the past couple of decades.  And they made this documentary about it called happy.  I watched it.  And now you get to read my rehash.

Money Only Buys a Certain Amount of Happiness

According to the film, 50% of our happiness levels are genetic.  I’ll wait till there’s a few more decades of research to decide if I think these numbers are concrete or even accurate.  But we’ll work off this model for now.

10% of your happiness is determined by your environment, which in the way our society is set up, can depend in part on how much money you have coming in.

There’s been tons of research, both highlighted in the film and otherwise, that says after you hit a certain point, making more money does not equate to more happiness.  This point is somewhere around $50,000-$75,000/year.

Now, if you’re making 10k a year and all of a sudden you start making 100k, your happiness is bound to skyrocket.  But shooting for a mil isn’t going to sustain the ascent of good feelings.  In fact, there’s research showing that people who work too hard or make enough money to participate in the consumer culture at a ridiculous pace are actually UNHAPPIER.

So, let’s be liberal and say the whole 10% of your environmental happiness is determined by how much cash you make.  (This is totally untrue.  But it illustrates that at absolute most, money determines 10%!  Not a lot!)  What’s the remaining 40% determined by?

How to Be Happy: The Other 40%

Have New Experiences.  Regularly.

People who change up their routine tend to be happier.  It may just be my circle, but I know so many people who absolutely love travel.  And I’m guessing the reason why is because it’s a new experience, and those contribute to our happiness. But travel can be expensive.  I advocate for it when budgeted for, but there are other ways to change your routine without saving for twelve months:

  • Take a different way home from work/school/wherever you normally go.  It seems stupid, but it’s actually an example they used in the film.
  • Try a new restaurant with a friend.  Make sure this is budgeted for, too!  🙂  Better yet, try a new recipe or food at home.
  • Make a new friend.
  • Learn a new skill or take a class at your library/community college.
  • Find volunteer opportunities in your area.  Many require long-term commitment, but the ones that will best serve your for these particular purposes will be varied.
  • Become a tourist in your own town. Geocaching has allowed me to see places in my own, native city that I never even knew existed.
  • Run your errands in a different order than you normally would.
  • This list could go on forever.  I’ll let you get creative and add some of your own in the comments.
This post, which contains affiliate links, first appeared on Femme Frugality on September 24, 2012.

39 thoughts on “How to Be Happy

  1. Holly@ClubThrifty

    This is a great post! I agree that money can only buy happiness part of the time…like on vacation for instance. The rest of the time you have to find things to fill the time that bring happiness into your life.

  2. CF @ OutlierModel

    Good post! I agree that money is important for some degree of happiness – otherwise you can’t afford a lot of the “experiences” that make you happy. One of the best ways I’ve found for being happier was to reach out to people more and try to just be more social, whether it’s inviting people over for a bite or board games. I find as we get older, we give ourselves less time to just “hang out” with our friends.

    1. femmefrugality

      This is true. I heard someone who does studies like these (oops…I can’t exactly remember who I’m referencing,) say that while money can’t buy happiness, lack of money certainly does equate to misery. I think being social is a huge part of it…that’s actually a big part of Wednesday’s post! As we get older we get more “responsible” with our time and familial relationships. Which is good. But like you said, we skip out on that very important social aspect.

  3. MyMoneyDesign

    Well, who knew that I was going to stumble upon the secret of happiness today? 🙂 Where was this information when I was an angsty teenager? In all seriousness, I do agree with the research. I think money only gets you so far before you realize that love and health are more important.

  4. Modest Money

    I’m not really sure about new experiences being so important for our happiness. Some people can be extremely happy while living a very routine driven life. I would think this would only apply to certain personality types. I think I’d get a lot more happiness out of doing a hobby I enjoy going regularly compared to something like learning a new skill or doing errands in a different order. Personally I’m a bigger believer that things like diet, regular exercise, connecting with nature and social contact play a huge role in our happiness.

    1. femmefrugality

      That’s very true! I may not have framed this well, but new experiences are only part of the other 40%. The other parts will be posted on Wednesday (it was too long of a post,) and you hit most of them on head.

  5. lil desiqua

    Love this post! There are so many easy (and free/cheap) ways to find happiness… if you want it! I would agree with the others in that I find being social makes me very happy, spending time with friends and family, but this could also be related to my personality type. Can’t wait to see your other ideas on Wednesday!

  6. Jonathan

    Health, relationships, and wealth (prioritized in that order) are the keys to happiness in my book. I can’t say I’ve heard of the movie you summarized though. I’ll definitely have to watch it now. Hopefully they have it on Netflix =)

  7. Pauline

    I have lived in Guatemala where people are among the happiest on earth. The majority is poor by western standard, and lives a simple life, organized around family and hard work. Seeing how happy they were with so little was really inspiring.

    1. femmefrugality

      Truly! One of the happy people they highlight is a rickshaw driver that lives in the slums of an Indian neighborhood and gets beat on a regular basis by his customers. It’s so amazing…his attitude and gratitude. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter

    Great post. I can relate to it. I used to be quite unhappy and bored. I started trying new activities and signing up for some classes and instantly felt more alive. Sometimes we just need to mix it up and get out of our rut.

    As far as long term happiness I have been really working on not focusing on the physical. We live in such a physical monetary world it is hard to escape but it isn’t impossible. I am slowly making progress.

    1. femmefrugality

      Variety certainly can cure a case of the blues! I can testify to that in my own life, as well. 🙂 I agree that focusing on the spiritual/metaphysical/whatever you want to call it can add a greater meaning and thus happiness to our lives.

  9. AverageJoe

    Wow! The key is in that 40%, huh? Excellent post. There are other psychological studies that have proven this also, but I’d totally forgotten about them before reading this.

    1. femmefrugality

      Well, that’s the largest part that you can ultimately change according to these studies. The whole 40% doesn’t consist of mixing up your routine, but more that will be up tomorrow!

  10. Christa

    I like to change things up once in a while, too. Most recently, I worked on a task with my non-dominant hand (a suggestion I found on how to increase memory), and surprisingly, succeeding at this challenge did make me a tiny bit happier as well!

  11. Nancy

    I’m the marketing assistant for Robert Scheinfeld, a NY Times bestselling author who just wrote a new book on how to be happy. It’s called “The Ultimate Key To Happiness.” It offers a v-e-r-y different approach to defining what happiness really is, and a very different step-by-step path to experience it all the time, no matter what’s going on around you. The Internet has gotten so complex. So many options. Can anyone here share ideas for how to get the word out there about this important new book? I’d love to hear your ideas. I’m sure there are tons of ideas I’ve never thought of before.

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  14. Esther

    This post is still very much relevant as it was when it was first written. Money can never buy happiness, it only complements and magnifies the happiness we already have.

  15. Prudence Debtfree

    Love this topic! I would say that someone who earns even more that the $75,000 threshold can be unhappy because of money mismanagement. So it’s not the amount of money you earn – it’s got to be well-managed or it won’t contribute to happiness – not even that 10% contribution. It will actually rob you of – I’d say way more than 10%. Does that make sense?

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