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What Makes People Happy?

Carrie Steckl earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a Minor in Gerontology from Indiana University – Bloomington in 2001. She has spent over ...Read More

A new poll by the University of Connecticut and Hartford Courant found that 89% of those surveyed were “completely happy,” “very happy,” or “fairly happy.” Granted, only 1,006 people completed the poll, but that’s a pretty typical number for these types of public tallies.

I was pleased to learn that so many of us are satisfied with life, but also a little confused. Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about a study that found that 83% of employees are seriously stressed out at work.

How can these two findings coexist? How can almost equal percentages of people be miserable at work but happy in life? Perhaps it has to do with the study samples. To learn about workplace stress, the researchers had to find people who are actually working. They probably used sampling methods that identified employed individuals right off the bat.

On the other hand, the study on happiness wasn’t looking at happiness among employees – it was exploring happiness among people in general. And who do you think might be more available to respond to phone surveys? You guessed it: the unemployed, the retired, and the stay-at-home folks who don’t experience the same kind of workplace stress identified in the other study. In reality, the two studies probably tapped very different populations; hence, the results don’t seem to match up.

Now that we have that settled, you might be asking, “What in the world makes people happy?” The study uncovered some interesting factors:

  • Gender. While 54% of men said they were happy, the women “out-happied” them. Sixty-three percent of women reported they were happy with their lives.
  • Marriage. Being married seems to make a difference in personal outlook. While 67% of married people were happy, only 48% of divorced or separated people and 47% of the never-married were happy.
  • Home ownership. Those who owned their own homes tended to be happier than renters. Sixty-eight percent of homeowners said they were happy, while less than half of renters said the same.
  • Income. Interestingly, those with annual family incomes of $100,000 or higher were generally happier than those with lower incomes.
  • Religious participation. The researchers reported that this was one of the most prominent indicators of happiness. Sixty-eight percent of those who reported attending religious services at least once a week indicated they were either “completely happy” or “very happy.”

How do these results add up for you? Do you identify with one or more of these factors? What other factors do you think should be included on this list? Leave a comment here and share your thoughts.


Altimari, D. (June 23, 2013). U.S. poll: 89% say they’re happy. Chicago Tribune (Kindle version).

Keep Reading By Author Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.
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