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Happiness Research: 3 Categories Of Happiness Factors Found Across Globe

By June 24, 2024Blog

Happiness Highs

Happiness can ebb and flow but there are factors that can help you to ensure you experience greater levels of happiness despite the changing circumstances of your life.

Researchers looked at 155 studies from over 100 countries, and 44 cultures, reviewing 90 years worth of research since 1930 to uncover what really makes humans happy over the course of their lifetime [1].

As a result of their review, the researchers categorised the determinants of happiness into three groups which they branded as: Health, Hope, and Harmony.

Here, I will share some of their key findings along with a little help from me under each ‘What This Means For YOU’ section.



Mental Health and Happiness

Nineteen studies looked at the effects of mental health on happiness. Participants were aged between 10 and 99 years.

Studies revealed an increase in happiness due to factors such as mindfulness, decreased post-traumatic stress symptoms, creativity, and self-affirmation.

A decrease in happiness was found amongst participants as a result of mental health factors such as depression, lifetime trauma, addiction, and heavy use of screen-based media.

Also, those who engaged in mindfulness and demonstrated coping competence and recognised their personal strengths tended to be happier.


What This Means For YOU

It can be easy to think that it’s something someone did, or something that happened, or something you want that you don’t have that is making you unhappy. But whilst those things may be a source of frustration for you, are they really the cause of your unhappiness or is it something else if you introspect deeper?

As you begin to peel the layers to uncover the real source of your unhappiness it may actually be your poor mental health that’s making you unhappy in the first place, and those other things may actually just be frustrations or annoyances.

So (a) be honest with yourself about the state of your mental health and (b) seek to resolve the current underlying root cause of your poor mental health, rather than being overly focused on the sources of frustration that are being magnified due to the state of your mental health.


Emotional Health and Happiness

Nine studies looked at the links between emotional health and happiness. Participants were aged between 9 and 64 years.

The studies found that happiness increased when people engaged in things like humour and gratitude, when they experienced a caring climate, when they were resilient, and when they had positive emotions.


What This Means For YOU

Essentially, what this highlights is that creating positive emotions through things like humour and gratitude, and being immersed in positive emotions like when you’re in a compassionate environment, and having a positive outlook as is the case when we are resilient, is important for experiencing emotional health.

So to increase your happiness: engage in positive thoughts, generate positive emotions, and immerse yourself in emotionally positive environments.


Physical Health and Happiness

Twenty-eight studies examined how physical health affects happiness. Participants’ ages ranged between 5 and 100 years.

Sixteen studies showed an increase in happiness caused by various factors such as regular physical activity and a healthy diet.

Nine studies showed a decrease in happiness caused by various determinants such as poor health, disability, handicap, abuse, transition to adulthood, and advancing age.


What This Means For YOU

The state of your body affects the state of your mind. In so many ways. So, think and take action.

It could be that you have a poor diet whereby an imbalance in your gut bacteria is hindering the co-working of your hypothalamus, pituitary gland and adrenal gland – referred to as the HPA axis – which influences your body’s response to stress. That hampered stress response is linked to mood disorders and could be affecting your mood.

Or perhaps your inactivity is affecting your wellbeing given aerobic and anaerobic exercise is also significantly connected to your mental health, not just your physical health.

Or it might be the chronic stress you’ve endured due to abuse from an intimate partner that has consequently caused physical health problems in addition to the complex post-traumatic stress disorder you may have developed as a consequence of that abuse.

So make maintaining good physical health a key focus of your days and notice what a difference it makes to your wellbeing during, immediately after, and over the subsequent days, weeks and months.



Goal Achievement and Happiness

Ten studies looked at various work- and study-related factors to assess their connection to happiness via hope for goal achievement. Participants were between 15 and 94 years old.

All 10 studies showed an increase in happiness caused by things like the pursuit of goals, scholastic achievement, task performance, satisfaction from self-employment compared to organisational workers, and higher occupational status.


What This Means For YOU

When you’re not moving forward in life in a meaningful way, working towards something worthwhile, it can cause unhappiness. When you are further from your goals than you’d like to be or had planned to be, it can cause anxiety and unhappiness. It’s as though life is out of your control.

Notice, also, how the review found that satisfaction from self-employment compared to organisational workers was linked to increased happiness. Perhaps this too denotes the sense of control a person feels they have over their own lives when they are self-employed.

So take charge of your life, set realistic goals that stretch you by giving your brain something to strive for, and as Jim Rohn used to say, ‘make measurable progress in reasonable time.’


Personal Growth and Happiness

Eight studies examined the impact of personal growth on happiness. Participants were aged between 18 and 91 years.

All studies showed an increase in happiness as a result of factors such as personal growth, life satisfaction, positive thinking about oneself, higher resilience, perceived power, higher personal mastery, and positive health behaviours.


What This Means For YOU

These findings echo the messages of the previous section but let’s add how this more clearly highlights that the way in which you utilise your brain also impacts your happiness, specifically, by having a positive attitude – such as positive thinking about oneself and higher resilience; and a proactive approach to life – such as higher personal mastery and positive health behaviours and higher resilience.

Furthermore, exploring what will increase your life satisfaction and then taking steps to achieve it, is also important for your happiness as suggested by the research.


Economic Growth and Happiness

Five studies examined how economic growth affects happiness. Participants’ ages ranged from 15 to 91 years.

Three studies revealed happiness increases with factors like increased economic growth and socio-economic status.

Two studies showed happiness decreases due to factors such as less economic freedom, economic scarcity, unemployment, the earnings of others, and economic disparity across communities.


What This Means For YOU

Strive to change the circumstances you find yourself in or, failing that, make the best of the situation you are in. Maybe that means upskilling yourself so that you can pursue new economic opportunities.

Plus, don’t compare yourself to others because it’s meaningless; no two people’s lives and achievements are comparable as everyone has a different set of circumstances. And if you find you torture yourself by, for example, checking out someone’s social media that you’re comparing yourself to, then stop doing it, scroll right past them if they’re in your feed, ‘mute’ them or ‘unfollow’ them. And recall that saying, ‘Nobody is you, and that is your superpower.’



Social Harmony and Happiness

Twelve studies tended to the effects of social relationships on happiness. The participants were aged between 16 and 79 years.

Eleven of those twelve studies demonstrated happiness increases as a result of things like prosocial behaviour, social relations, socialising, nurturing social relationships, social support, sense of community, leisure, and developing positive thoughts about social groups.

The one remaining study of those twelve did not reveal a connection between social support and happiness.


What This Means For YOU

We’re wired to be social creatures and so ensuring you have enough social contact each week and ensuring you are getting on well with your loved ones, is of utmost importance.

If you are feeling isolated, get out amongst other humans more, even if it’s just to sit in a busy square surrounded by people going about their daily lives.

If an important relationship in your life is flailing, fix it. And take responsibility for the part that you play in that relationship by eliminating the bad relationship habits you engage in and increasing the quantity and quality of good relationship habits.


Family Harmony and Happiness

Thirty-three studies examined the effects of family harmony on happiness. Participants were between 3 and 96 years of age.

Twenty-nine of those studies showed happiness increases due to family-related factors such as family support, family communication, good familial connections, time spent with parents, home-dwelling elders, emotional support, positive mothering, positive marital relationship, entering cohabitation, perceived help from spouse, pregnant women, and work-family conciliation, and women with higher affective intensity.

Meanwhile, some studies showed happiness decreases due to various family-related factors such as unhappy couples, negative marital relationships, viewing explicit sexual movies, and women terminating pregnancies.


What This Means For YOU

Do whatever it takes to improve your family relations as and when required and if both parties are willing. Given you may live interdependent lives with some of those family members, ensuring the health of these relationships is of paramount importance to your happiness and your health.

Remember that your family take the brunt of all your annoying habits so be patient and compassionate towards them for their ‘flaws’.

And rather than become lazy or complacent about any familial challenges you’re facing, be proactive, think about the outcomes you want to achieve, and then make the necessary changes. It will change your life for the better when you do.


Cultural Harmony and Happiness

Seven studies looked at the effects culture can have on happiness. Participants were between 11 and 90 years of age.

The studies showed an increase in happiness caused by culture-related factors such as faith, spirituality, being indigenous to the land, ethnic identification, religious attendance, spirituality, forgiveness, and tolerance.


What This Means For YOU

Embrace your identity as feels authentic to you and that can mean various aspects of it from the culture(s) you belong to, to your ethnicity, to the religion you belong to, etc. Plus, be compassionate towards others.


Religious Harmony and Happiness

Twelve studies examined the effects of religion on happiness. Participants were between 11 and 90 years old.

Ten studies showed an increase in happiness caused by factors such as religion, faith, forgiveness (of self, others, situation), religious attendance, spirituality and tolerance. Two studies showed a decrease in happiness as a result of spiritual struggles.


What This Means For YOU

Maintain an active spiritual life, not just an active physical life. It can transform your whole being; help you to make sense of things; help you to keep faith when things don’t go as you’d planned or hoped; help you to be a better person in your relationships; give you something to do with your spare time; reduce feelings of loneliness; and increase your resilience.

And if you’re struggling with your spirituality, rather than just shoving the topic to one side to suppress it, seek to resolve that struggle to the point where you genuinely feel at peace with it.


Environmental Harmony and Happiness

Ten studies looked at the effects of the environment on happiness. Participants’ ages were between18 and 93 years.

Nine studies showed happiness increases caused by environment-related factors such as ecology, green space, aesthetic neighbourhoods, visits to parks, more water, better air quality, quiet neighbourhoods, and horticulture therapy.

One study found a decrease in happiness as a result of environmental disasters.


What This Means For YOU

Nature is massively beneficial to your mental health and overall wellbeing so immerse yourself in nature, frequently. If there is not much green space where you live, travel to it, or bring it into your home with plants, and if you don’t have a garden, see if there is a community garden locally that you can volunteer at.


Your Happiness Is In Your Hands

If there is one thing that should jump out when looking at the review of those 155 studies from over 100 countries, and 44 cultures is that your happiness is in your hands. That you can do things to increase and sustain your happiness with a few important changes to your life. Many of those changes are really very simple, too.

Remember that it is always best to look at what you can do differently, first, rather than what someone else could do differently to help increase your happiness and your mutual happiness.

And be compassionate to, patient with, and respectful towards, yourself and others whilst on those journeys of personal growth. Compassion, patience and respect will take you a long way, and hopefully all the way to sustainable happiness through health, hope and harmony.



1. Singh, S., Kshtriya, S., & Valk, R. (2023). Health, Hope, and Harmony: A Systematic Review of the Determinants of Happiness across Cultures and Countries. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 20(4), 3306.