A deep dive into happiness research finds three domains that matter most.
With few exceptions, everyone wants to be happy.
Pursuing happiness in the wrong ways can decidely result in unhappiness.
How to define happiness varies from person to person, but results in satisfaction in key areas of life.
Three big categories help frame the specific ingredients of happiness: health, hope, and harmony.
The pursuit of happiness is a matter pondered in every age, in every time, in many different ways. Researchers have poured boundless energy figuring out what happiness is and how to get it, quoting Aristotle still, even after over two millennia: “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim, and the end of human existence.” Was he right?
Pursuing happiness in ways that lead to misery–becoming obsessed, driving oneself in frustration and self-reprobation, failing to slow down and appreciate what there is — is a recipe for anti-happiness. Likewise, there are many false idols one can end up worshiping in the pursuit of happiness — money, power, fame, success — aspects of which may be relevant for satisfaction but which, in excess or monomaniacal preoccupation, lead to ruin.
Is happiness about what you do or what it means? Is it a state of mind, a function of health, a question of how we choose to see it? Each question leads to more. Greater clarity would be useful to frame such questions, given the high degree of individual variability.
A recent systematic review of the literature on happiness by Singh and colleagues in the International Journal of Public Health (2023) takes a close look at research on happiness across many cultures, pulling findings together into an integrated model. Using the standard PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses), they identified nearly 2,500 peer-reviewed research papers on happiness. Applying rigorous quality standards, a final set of 155 studies were selected for deep analysis and inclusion1.
They sorted the findings into three categories: those relating to health, including mental, emotional, and/or physical…