Looking at What Makes People Happy (and What Doesn’t)

Amid their discontents, Americans routinely proclaim themselves to be more happy than unhappy. That’s the case in a new poll by Harris Interactive, in conjunction with the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University. Forty-four percent of adults agreed “strongly” and 39 percent “somewhat” with the statement, “At this time I’m generally happy with my life.” But just what is it that makes them happy?

The findings confirmed the popular wisdom that family and friends are a crucial part of the answer. Ninety-three percent agreed (60 percent strongly) that “My relationships with friends bring me happiness,” and 92 percent agreed (68 percent strongly) that “I have positive relationships with my family members.”

Many are happy despite money rather than due to it: 65 percent agreed (29 percent strongly) that they “frequently worry about my financial situation.” Work is a mixed bag: 37 percent agreed that “My work is frustrating,” including 13 percent who agreed strongly; 55 percent disagreed, 29 percent of them strongly. As for leisure, 67 percent disagreed with the negative statement, “I rarely engage in hobbies and pastimes I enjoy.”

Contrary to what you might guess, youth doesn’t correlate with happiness. Respondents 65 and older were much more likely than the 18-24-year-olds (47 percent vs. 29 percent) to be classified as “very happy.”

Religious people are “significantly happier than the non-religious,” and this gap is evident in matters unrelated to religion. The “very religious” were less likely than the “not at all religious” to say their work is frustrating (31 percent vs. 46 percent) or that they rarely enjoy hobbies and pastimes (27 percent vs. 37 percent). And while the very religious were a bit more likely than the not at all religious to say they often worry about their finances (64 percent vs. 60 percent), they were still more likely to be “optimistic about the future” (83 percent vs. 69 percent).