What is the Secret of Happiness?

Amelia Phillips

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If you answered money, you’d be somewhat mistaken. Determining the secret to happiness has been a long, controversial topic and whoever comes up with the guaranteed solution will be richer than Gates! Mirko Bagaric has come up with his own solution. He has been researching happiness for many years, is a professor at Deakin University and the author of numerous books on the topic. Bagaric has developed a list of lifestyle habits that he believes leads to a much happier, fulfilled life. He might not have cracked the foolproof happiness code, but I think he is onto something. Do you practice most of his habits, or do you need a happy kick up the butt?


What makes people happy?

Bagaric has discovered what he calls a “happiness roadmap” These are the most common traits of the happiest people;

  • Having a fit and healthy body (surprise surprise!)
  • Realistic goals
  • Good self esteem
  • optimism
  • outgoing personality
  • a sense of control
  • close relationships
  • challenging work
  • Active leisure
  • adequate rest
  • a faith that entails communal support, purpose and acceptance

What about money?

Bagaric’s research has shown that once someone is above the poverty line, more money only makes a tiny difference to their happiness. When testing people in the ‘average’ income bracket, money made virtually no difference. What is interesting is that people in the top income bracket ($100k+) had only 12.7% saying they were completely satisfied versus the 21.2% in the lowest income bracket (0-$25K). I bet you know some people who are very well off but unhappy.

How do they test for happiness?

Scientists use brain imaging to scan the brain’s activity and separate the grumpy bums from the Pollyannas. The grumpy/distressed side of the brain (Amygdala and the right pre frontal cortex) fires up when people are distressed and quiets down when they are happy. This then shifts the brain activity into the left pre frontal cortex when people are happy. It is interesting to note that Buddhist monks have the furthermost positive left brain activity as their baseline, showing that they really do practice what they preach!

Are there constraints such as age, gender etc?

Age plays no part in predetermining happiness, people can have a sense of happiness at any age but gender can make a difference. Although men and women experience the same levels of happiness, women are more susceptible to depression. Relationships also play an important role with married couples noting more happiness than singles.

What can we do to have the best chance of happiness?

Firstly stop thinking that more money will solve your problems, and make you happy, it won’t! Take a long hard look at the list above and score yourself on a scale of 1-10 (poor -excellent) for each happiness trait. For the lower scoring traits, write down an action plan for how you are going to work on that area. For example if you feel your self esteem is low, what material are you going to read, how are you going to work on it?

If you scored poorly on everything, don’t get overwhelmed; just pick one trait at a time to work on. My suggestion (admittedly biased) is to get the fit and healthy trait under control, this will definitely lift the scores on other levels such as self esteem, active leisure, sense of control, and probably will lead to close relationships (even if it is with your trainer).

So when you think of taking on that second job, maybe you should focus on your happiness road map and pave the path to a happier more fulfilled existence.

Do you agree with Bagaric’s list? Have you experienced a shift in your happiness by following similar habits? I’d love to know about your happiness.

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  • Peter J

    Hi Amelia, this is a great insight. It’s a handy checklist and I might use it next time I need to “re-center”.

    Isn’t it interesting how many of the things on the list are things that fall by the wayside when we think we are looking for “fulfillment”


  • http://www.ameliaburton.com.au Amelia Burton

    Thanks Peter,

    Yes fulfillment comes in many forms, most of which are free if we are just open to receiving them!


  • Linea

    I like the idea of a happiness roadmap to help us all on our way to a happier life and I agree that money has nothing to do with happiness. I recently read an article by Med Yones, a happiness mentor, which states that the degree of lifestyle change to become happier depends on the following formula: Degree of Change = Degree of education + Degree of experience
    Quality of change = (Quality of thoughts) + (Quality of environmental reinforcing feedback). For more information see http://www.lifehappiness.org/lifehappinesscoachingfaq/index.htm

  • http://www.ameliaburton.com.au Amelia Burton

    Wow, sounds fascinating Linea,
    Quality of thoughts is a big one. If you could give your thoughts a ‘thumbs up’ or a ‘thumbs down’ as far as their effect on your quality of life, would your day have more thumbs up, or more thumbs down??

  • http://www.excitedbylife.com excitedbylife

    Totally agree about the “fit and healthy body” giving you happiness. Exercise always gives me a natural high and motivation for the rest of the day. I think also that forming habits like regular exercise helps with self-esteem and confidence because you are accomplishing something and seeing the results over time.

  • http://www.ameliaburton.com.au Amelia Burton

    Well said excitedbylife!
    All the happy, balanced people I know make time to exercise and eat well. They aren’t obsessive but smart in the way they fit activity in.

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  • destiny

    WElllllll…. my bestest friend in the whole world nicole make me super uber happy. and my boyfee matt make me super UBER happy! yep this friday is going to be so much fun. party in my pants! business in the front, partyyyyy innn theeee backkkk!

  • destiny

    one question. is it possiable to be at your happiest at a certain age. for example can i be more happy at 17 than at 57??????

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