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By Brianna Wiest

Happiness – like love – is not just a feeling. It is a feeling we create through action, choice and practice. Positive psychology has been having a media heyday for the past 15 years, and it’s unlikely to slow down any time soon, mostly because the public at large is unsatisfied – particularly Western societies. We’re finding that the valued tenets that have been cultivated in our world – individuality, success, wealth, status – aren’t bringing us what they seem to promise. We need to re-write the mental script for ourselves. Helping us do so is the evolving knowledge of what happiness really means.

Over the past 75 years, many studies have been conducted to determine what it takes to create a happy life. Yet there have been few that have gone on for the entirety of that time, with the exception of Harvard’s Grant Study of Adult Development. The findings were compiled and released a few years ago, and the bottom line is that happiness is almost entirely a personal choice.

If we were to sum up the findings in one sentence, it would look like this:

“Happiness comes from choosing to be happy with whatever you do, strengthening your closest relationships and taking care of yourself physically, financially and emotionally.”

Here’s how the numbers break down:

Don’t assume you’ll feel happy just because you get the job of your dreams – if you don’t learn to be happy now, you’ll never make the cognitive shift to feel satisfaction.

  • 47% of people who reported being extremely happy said they thoroughly enjoy what they are currently doing.
  • 67% of people who reported being extremely happy said the happiest period of their lives is now.

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When it comes to relationships, it’s about quality, not quantity. 

It’s about investing your time and energy into the people who you inherently feel a connection with – whether it be family or close friends – as opposed to people you don’t know well.

  • 75% of people who reported being extremely happy gave the top box rating to the importance of success in their intimate relationships.
  • 77% of people who reported being extremely happy said the state of their relationship was either the “greatest” of “very good.”

You must take care of yourself physically, financially and emotionally.

In essence, you have to take responsibility for yourself. You have to care for yourself at the most basic, fundamental levels. While some aspects of health and finance are chance and circumstance, there are undeniable habits you can learn to

  • 78% of people who reported being extremely happy said they exercise at least three times per week.
  • 93% of people who reported being extremely happy said they are in excellent or very good health.

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  • 68% of people who reported being happy think they are “set” or “on track” for retirement.
  • 10% of people who reported being extremely happy perceive themselves to be under stress.
  • 44% of people who reported being extremely happy said they are at peace with their work-life balance.

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