The 2 Factors That Define Human Happiness

Ask anyone what their goal in life is, and they’ll probably answer one way: “I want to be happy.” The Declaration of Independence guarantees us life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The pursuit of happiness is great and all, but how do you actually obtain happiness? Where is this elusive feeling hiding?

It’s pretty easy to point out specific moments of happiness—laughing hysterically with our friends, acing a test, eating a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie dough sundae with extra whipped cream. But consistent, daily happiness is a little less common. In fact, according to a 2009 AP survey, 42% of college students feel down or depressed on a daily basis.

Basically, there are two different things people focus on achieving in their life: extrinsic factors and intrinsic factors.

Extrinsic factors include things like status, wealth, and possession of material goods. Intrinsic factors, on the other hands, include self-growth, relationships with loved ones, and cooperation with others.

So, what does that mean? Well, success and happiness aren’t necessarily compatible. Studies show that a millionaire CEO with a closet full of designer clothes, a fancy sports car and invitations to all the best parties may not be any happier than a dirt poor person living in a shack with barely enough to feed his family. Money really doesn’t buy happiness. (Even if it does buy peanut butter chocolate chip cookie dough sundaes with extra whipped cream).

Furthermore, you can become happy by changing up what you do each day. Exercising, volunteering, spending time with people you care about—and who care about you—are all specific activities that will increase your happiness. Exercise releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine which is essential for feelings of pleasure. The system that controls the release of dopamine deteriorates as people age and aerobic exercise is one of the best ways to maintain dopamine systems. Volunteering helps people prioritize intrinsic values and feel like they are part of something meaningful—two things that will go a long way in that pursuit of happiness. Finally, spend time with friends and family. According to a study by Ed Diener, a researcher in positive psychology, every happy person over 30 had strong relationships of some sort.

Basically, your happiness is up to you…not what happens to you, but how you choose to respond. How you live your life can either make you upset, complacent, or happy—and, to quote a recent tumblr post, if you don’t have the laughing crying face in your recently used emojis, you’re doing life wrong.

Image via Amelia Kramer

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