In this article, we will go beyond the proven facts that exercise, good sleep patterns and achievements contribute to our happiness. We will look at the scientific research to understand effective ways of cultivating happiness and challenge the myth “money brings happiness”.

What makes us happy?

When we identify happiness as pleasure or having our needs met, we end up in a vicious circle. Many of us, especially in the Western societies, associate happiness by acquiring material goods, latest models of Iphones, better cars etc. The problem with this mindset is that as human begins we get used to things pretty quickly which scientists call “hedonic adaptation”. How long did your happiness last when you purchased your new gadget?

Royal Entrance byTrey Ratcliff

According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, a positive psychology researcher, the downside of hedonic adaptation is that once we get used to our new job, new car, new clothes and the list can go on forever, our level of happiness tend to go back to its natural state or baseline happiness that we are born with.

Another piece of the puzzle comes from the research by Gilbert et.al., from Harvard University. He suggests that we have the tendency to overestimate how an event or experience will affect our emotional well-being and underestimate our ability to recover from difficult experiences. This tendency can lead us to avoid certain decisions because of the fear of failure and the assumption that it will reduce our happiness greatly. On the other hand, we might crave for certain situations (such as winning the lottery) which don’t boost our happiness as much as we think over the long run. As human beings certainly have a tendency to return our relatively stable levels of happiness after major positive and negative events or life changes.

Therefore, do not postpone the decisions you fear. Trying new things can greatly improve your happiness, and if it doesn’t work out you will bounce back much quicker than you think!

Money and Happiness?

It is certainly a common assumption in that money will make us happy. But is it true? Well, this is the million dollar question!

Research by Ed Diener from University of Illinois, suggests that indeed money increases the level of happiness when it helps to lift people out of poverty. His research shows that improving our physical conditions and avoiding poverty definitely makes us happier. Diener states “income appears to increase subjective well being little over the long-term when more of it is gained by well-off individuals whose material desires rise with their incomes.”

Happiness has a lot more to do with meaning, our social connections and engagements with others, kindness and compassion, and contributing to something outside of ourselves, “the greater good

Another study in the U.S. suggests earning more money (up to $75,000 per year based on the US income) makes people happier. However, once that level is reached our happiness seem to be unaffected with more income.

I think these findings can be related to Abraham Maslow’s concept of “Hierarchy of Needs”. He suggested that we all have certain physiological and psychological needs that build upon each other. Once the lower needs, such as shelter, food, safety and security, are met properly, we can move towards our ultimate  potential which is self-actualization. Money can certainly satisfy some of the needs in the lower categories. However, happiness has a lot more to do with meaning, our social connections and engagements with others, kindness and compassion, and contributing to something outside of ourselves, “the greater good”.

Maslow Hierarchy of Needs


Diener E. and Biswas-Diener R. (2001) http://www.langleygroup.com.au/images/Money-Happiness-2002.pdf

Diener E. and Seligman M. (2004) http://psi.sagepub.com/content/5/1/1.short

Gilbert D. T. et.all (1998), Immune Neglect: A Source of Durability Bias in Affective Forecasting, [Online], Available  http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~dtg/Gilbert%20et%20al%20(IMMUNE%20NEGLECT).pdf

Lyubomirsky S. (2013)  The Myths of Happiness, Penguin Books, New York

McLeod, S. (2007), Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs [Onlie] http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html