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September 11, 2020 5 min read

What makes you happy?

Not just momentarily cheerful but consistently happy and fulfilled?

If you're like the majority of adults, you'll say family, or maybe your career¹.

Happiness looks different to everyone, and it can elude some people for their entire lives.

If you spend a lot of time examining what exactly makes you happy, then it may be a sign that you're not living your best life. 

The Benefits of Happiness

Woman looking happy and healthyWe all want to be happy, but did you know that happiness can also be a health booster? Studies have found that people who live happy, positive lives enjoy a lot of benefits, from lower blood pressure to an extended lifespan²,³.

Happiness and Social Well-being

Your happiness isn't just for you. Being a happier person makes you a more supportive partner, friend, and colleague. You can't help others find their happiness if you haven't discovered your own. 

How to Discover What Makes You Happy

Happiness won't just fall out of the sky. You have to put in some effort if you want to live your happiest life. That means looking for the things that make you happy and let yourself enjoy them.

Some people spend their whole lives on this proverbial quest for happiness. They continuously change jobs, move between relationships, or jump headfirst into a new hobby every week. Each time they repeat the same cycle: they choose something new, then go through something of a "honeymoon" phase of temporary happiness before it dawns on them that this new addition to their life is not the key to eternal contentment after all. Something is still missing. Then the cycle starts over again with a new job, a new town, or a new hobby.

Follow these six steps to discover what makes you truly happy - 

1.) Be Happily Honest With Yourself

So how can you end this cycle and zero in on the things that make you happy? If you want to find long-lasting happiness, ask yourself these two questions:

  • What job would you have if your salary didn't matter?

Woman looking delighted workingHere's a helpful exercise: if every job on Earth paid the same salary and benefits, what career would you choose? Would you go into politics? Medicine? Maybe you'd write the Next Great American Novel.

Your dream job might not be attainable for you in the real world, but that doesn't mean this exercise is pointless. Look deeper at your ideal occupation. What makes it so perfect for you? Would you become a politician to advocate for underprivileged groups? Would you become a doctor to help the sick? Does the idea of publishing a novel fulfill a creative need?

Once you identify the core reason your dream job appeals to you, you can pursue this satisfaction in other venues. Find volunteer opportunities to help others. Join a creative writing class. You'll find there are many ways to satisfy the same need. 

  • Where would you live if the price was no object?

Do you live in the house of your dreams? Probably not, but try to go back to the days before you made your first home purchase (or signed your first lease). What was your pipe dream? A ranch house in the countryside or a townhouse in the city?

Repeat the exercise you just ran through in the "dream job" scenario. Look beyond where you want to live and instead focus on why. What innate desire does the big house fulfill? Is city life more attractive to you because it fills a social need?

2.) The Needs Behind Your Wants

Have you noticed what these two exercises have in common? They both involve digging deeper and finding the root of all your desires. Too often, we get wrapped up in securing the things we want without ever acknowledging why we want these things. 

Material things on their own do not make you happy. Happiness comes from fulfillment. What this fulfillment looks like to you may be markedly different from what it is to someone else. 

3.) Do Not Measure Your Happiness Against Someone Else's

 A woman checking social media accounts on her phoneThere is no happiness to be found in comparisons. Looking to someone else's life and accomplishments as some sort of rubric for your own life will never lead you to actual happiness.

You can't know another person's inner thoughts. The successful, wealthy entrepreneur may look like the happiest person in the world to you, but spend your life mimicking theirs, and you might find they're not so content after all.

Obsessing over someone else's perceived happiness can be detrimental to your health. One study featured in Psychology Today found that time spent envying the lives of Facebook friends can lead to depression⁴. Your happiness is your own. Don't concern yourself with others. 

4.) Free Yourself From Expectations

Just as comparing your life to someone else's life will get you nowhere, so too will focus on societal expectations. 

The world is good at telling us what we "should" want or do: a big house, a lucrative career, and a successful family. But what if you don't fit into that mold? 

There will always be pressures from family or society to live your life "correctly." While you can't evade these influences entirely, you can choose to focus the majority of your efforts on finding the lifestyle that makes you truly happy. 

5.) Happiness Does Not Come from Other People

Woman looks happy and contentedHaving a strong network to rely on is a mark of high social wellness. However, having supportive friends and family alone will not make you happy. Happiness and contentment come from fulfilling innate desires, and that is something that no amount of validation from other people is going to be able to do.

You have to be happy with yourself. Look inward for true happiness, not outward. 

6.) Happiness Comes from Understanding Yourself

Cheerful woman enjoys sunshineIf you want to find what makes you happy, you'll need to know yourself and what truly defines you as a person. You need to discover what you need and what your core values are. Only then will you be able to embark on a journey towards greater happiness.

Examining your innermost desires and needs can be a tall order, and it takes time. Don't expect to find your true happiness overnight.

Allow yourself the time and space to work through your thoughts. Set aside a few minutes every day to collect your thoughts and examine your life. You may benefit from writing down your observations and coming back to them later.

7.) Use Happiness to Overcome Times of Stress

Happy people are not immune to sadness or stress. Instead, happy people face these setbacks with a positive attitude. They know that they can and will get through everything that life throws at them. You too can overcome any obstacle in your path. 

Happiness links to self-confidence and a greater sense of self-efficacy, meaning you're more likely to tackle stressful situations without feeling overwhelmed⁵. Suddenly that looming task or deadline doesn't seem so worrisome because you know you have the skills to pull off the project. 

Don't wait to begin your journey to a better you. Find the essence of your dreams and aspirations. It may take some time. It may make a few changes in direction, but you can find your happiness! All you have to do is start. 




(1) Delamothe, T (December 2005) Happiness. Get happy—it's good for you

(2) Blanchflower, D; Oswald, A (March 2008) Hypertension and happiness across nations

(3) Diener, E; Chan, M (January 2011) Happy People Live Longer: Subjective Well‐Being Contributes to Health and Longevity

(4) Appel, H; Gerlach, A; Crusius, J (June 2016) The interplay between Facebook use, social comparison, envy, and depression

(5) Taylor, L (November 2018) Can Happiness Lead to Confidence?