Happy people are healthy people. Happy people live longer and enjoy a greater quality of life. They function at a higher level, utilizing their personal strengths, skills, and abilities to contribute to their own well-being as well as that of others and society. They are more likely to be compassionate and, therefore, to contribute to the moral fiber of society in diversely beneficial ways. They are less prone to experience depression and, if they do, tend to manage it better and more quickly. They are less likely to experience anxiety, stress, or anger. As a result, happy people engage in fewer acts of violence or antisocial behaviors. They enjoy stronger and more-lasting relationships, thus facilitating society’s social capital. In all, they contribute to society in economic, social, moral, spiritual, and psychological terms. Compared to unhappy or depressed people, the happier ones are less of a burden to health services, social welfare agencies, or police and justice systems and so are less of a burden to the economy. In other words, building greater levels of individual happiness not only benefits a particular person but also leads to the healthy, happy functioning of society as a whole.
Fortunately, in the last decade or so, burgeoning research in the field of positive psychology has taught us much about the state of happiness. Most research prior to this, at least in the Western world, had focused on psychological abnormalities, dysfunction, and idiosyncrasies—despite happiness being the next most important life goal for most people once our physical needs for food, shelter, and health have been met. So what have we learned from this research?
First, as a contributor to happiness, research shows that relationships top the scale. Researchers in one study asked, What contributes to the top ten percent of happy people being happy? What are the keys to happiness for these “very happy” people? The answer was clear: the single-most important variable was that “very happy” people had good social relationships with other people. Other research supports this, claiming that “relationships are an important, and perhaps the most important, source of life satisfaction and emotional well-being.”
Spirituality comes in second on the list of what contributes most to
happiness. Researchers have found that spirituality is clearly linked with
higher levels of subjective well-being and higher satisfaction with both
life and marriage.
Second on the list of what most contributes to happiness is a sense of spirituality. In fact, a sense of spirituality strongly correlates to a life well-lived. This relationship between happiness and taking a “big picture” view of life is born out in research across gender, age, religion, and nationality. Spiritual strivings are clearly linked with higher levels of subjective well-being, particularly in regard to greater positive affect and higher satisfaction with both life and marriage. Numerous researchers have found that those of us with strong spiritual beliefs are happier and better protected against depression than those who have no particular sense of spirituality. Similarly it seems that people cope better with major adversity in their lives and major physical illness if they have a sense of established spirituality.
In another area, researchers have found that when we use our strengths, skills, resources, and abilities, we feel in touch with our “true selves”—we experience a sense of energy and function at optimal levels. The acknowledgment and use of one’s strengths are a significant predictor of both psychological and subjective well-being, which in turn contributes to the optimal functioning of society. One study of positive psychotherapy conducted in a clinically depressed population found that identifying one’s signature strengths and finding ways to use them led to clinically significant and sustained decreases in depression.