What Is Happiness? Five Characteristics of Happy People

March 11th, 2013 by Ryan

My research team and I just completed a study to examine the differences in how happy people live their lives compared to people who are unhappy. Because we were interested in several characteristics of happy people, we examined the predictors of happiness from 30 different surveys. These surveys measured people’s spending habits, consumer choices, values, and personality traits. Results indicated that happy people make five little decisions every day that improve their well-being.

What are five importance differences between happy and unhappy people based on our recent consumer behavior studies?

Happy people manage their money well. Something that anyone can do every day is to make a budget and track their financial transactions so they don’t make impulsive purchases. Research suggests that individual will manage their money better when they have a clear goal—your money management goal could be to pay off a credit card, save for a comfortable retirement, or to start saving towards an emergency fund. Our data shows that if you manage your money better today, you will be happier tomorrow.

Happy people spend their money on life experiences instead of material items. Almost ten years of research has investigated the effects of investing money in life experiences, as opposed to material items. There is now robust evidence that when people spend their money on life experiences they are happier than when they spend their money on material items. However, our data shows that people who habitually spend their money on life experiences are happier than people who tend to buy material items.

Happy people think about the past fondly. Perhaps unique among all animals, humans have the capacity to travel backward and forward in time—to use the “specious present” both to relive past life events and to think about the future. Our data shows that happy people appear to live in the past, reliving the ecstasy, but ignoring the agony, of days gone by. When happy people think about their past they focus on their good memories instead of dwelling on the negative parts.

Happy people “catch” the emotions of others. Some people are vulnerable to experiencing others’ emotions–they are sensitive “catch” others’ emotions during joyful (and sorrowful) experiences. Our data shows that when someone smiles warmly at happy people, they smile back and feel warm inside. Therefore, if you pay more attention to the emotions of other people you will be happier.

Happy people live in a great community. A person is happiest when three basic psychological needs are satisfied: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Literally thousands of studies demonstrate the positive effect of psychological need satisfaction on happiness. Our data shows that these psychological needs can be met by one’s community. Happy people say that they feel belongingness where they live and that they look forward to coming home when they have been away.

At BeyondThePurchase.Org we help people understand the relationship between money and happiness. To better understand the benefits of specific consumer choices, we continue to investigate the relationships between consumer preferences, psychological needs, happiness, and values at our website by allowing people to take tests on personality. To learn about what might be influencing how you think about and spend your money, register with Beyond The Purchase, then take a few of our personality quizzes:

Can money buy happiness? Take our Spending Choices and Happiness survey and on your feedback page you will learn how to spend your money to be happier.

How do you find happiness? Take our happiness quiz and find out your happiness score.

Is shopping an addiction? Take the Compulsive Buying Scale and learn about your spending habits.

You can also learn how well do you manage money by taking our Money Management quiz and if you focus more on the past, present, or future when you take the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory.

With these insights, you can better understand the ways in which your financial decisions affect your happiness.

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2 Responses to “What Is Happiness? Five Characteristics of Happy People”

  1. Craig Critchfield says:

    What is happiness? Could it be that what your surveys have found is that, because people are happy, they are able to make these five little decisions? Have you simply found that happiness generates further well-being? Aren’t our emotional states continuously changing, and isn’t our perception of emotion relative? Happiness happens when I become aware that I’m on the upstroke of the pleasure/pain continuum.

  2. Guy Farmer says:

    Great article. I wonder whether self-awareness is also a major component of happiness, as in: Someone who deeply understands who they are at their core and has worked through their issues has a greater potential to be happy than someone who lives unconsciously.

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