There as many ways to live our lives as they are people. Humans are diverse and pursue different sets of goals, where the ultimate objective might be achieving happiness. However, even if some of us might have an idea of what makes us happy, is it something that we can consider to be the key to happiness?

Let us examine empirical evidence on this subject. Firstly, there are certain things that definitely make us unhappy: poor health, going through separation or bad breakup, being unemployed, as well as lack of social interactions. These things should be avoided at all cost, as they are considered to be the biggest stressors one can encounter. Of course, it sounds easier in theory than in practice, but the idea is to maintain long-term goals that will prevent or dampen the impact of these stressors. As an example, you can avoid being laid-off  by performing well at your job, polishing your skills and changing job yourself, instead of worrying whether you will get fired.

Secondly, income consideration often occurs when discussing well-being. This relationship seems bidirectional: happier people make more, as well as making more makes us happier. However, the perception of how much is ‘’enough’’ depends on your environment. Do your friends make us much as you do, or do they make more? What about your family members? Your frame of reference can affect this association the most and determine whether you are satisfied with the life you are living. Moreover, having high expectations can also make you unhappy and become emotionally draining. Perhaps the key is to simply do your job, without thinking about money too much, but instead focusing on making sure it is well spent.

Thirdly, personal characteristics can also impact our well-being. As an example, higher self-esteem is associated with less depressive symptoms. It seems that even if others perceive us as competent, if you do not feel the same way your well-being will be affected by it. It can be beneficial to contact a specialist and work on your perception of self, as values such as self-worth are also linked to happiness. In general, the studies suggest psychological health makes a bigger impact on well-being than physical health, as the adaptational process is much more difficult.

Fourthly, how we tend to spend time also affects whether we feel happy or not. Not surprisingly, long commuting time does not result in positive well-being. Moreover, being a caregiver to a family member can also be linked to more depressive symptoms and burnout, as this role tends to be demanding and involve a lot of emotional attachment, while struggling yourself. However, what makes us happy is being physically active and doing something for others that is not too taxing yet still rewarding (e.g. weekly volunteering). These forms of spending your time are meaningful and beneficial in more than one way.

All in all, there are plenty of things that can make us feel happy or sad in the long-term. The key to a happy life might be living in awareness of one’s circumstances and how they impact other important life areas, just as the quote goes ‘’when you love what you have, you have everything you need’’.


Bibliography: Dolan, Peasgood, & White. (2008). Do we really know what makes us happy? A review of the economic literature on the factors associated with subjective well-being. Journal of Economic Psychology, 29(1), 94-122.



Gosia Cybulska is a Clinical Psychology Master student at Leiden University and an International Intern at Willingness. Besides her extensive love for Psychology manifested by volunteering at various facilities as well as pursuing a second degree, she also strives to learn more about what makes cats such adorable creatures.