What makes us happy? And we’re not talking about joyful experiences like watching a great movie or buying a pair of shoes that make our feet feel loved, we’re talking about persistent, abiding happiness. That feeling that helps you know that no matter what happens that day, you’ll be okay.
For 15 years, the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index has measured the happiness of Australians and sought to answer the question of what it is we need to feel happiness more than 70 per cent of the time.
The good news is, most Australians are happy around 75 per cent of the time, and that’s great. Researchers believe happy people “self-regulate” their happiness and that feeling good three-quarters of the time keeps everything in balance – after all, as they say, you don’t know you’re happy if you never know sadness.
The key to maintaining this equilibrium lies in three core elements, says Deakin University Emeritus Professor Robert Cummins and author of the Wellbeing Index.
He believe it comes down to the “‘Golden Triangle of Happiness” – three elements of life that need to be balanced and fulfilled in order to ensure our happiness.
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The three core elements are: strong personal relationships, financial control and a sense of purpose.
“No one element is sufficient in isolation. We all must balance the various disparate elements that make up our everyday lives to enable wellbeing, but those who can positively maintain these three aspects of their lives are well on their way,” say the report authors.
Being part of an intimate relationship is perhaps the most vital component of wellbeing. The relationship doesn’t have to be a romantic one, but closeness and support is the key. A good close relationship (or many good relationships) with someone you can share your thoughts, secrets, hopes, dreams and fears with, who will remind you that you are loved and valued, provides a critical resource to defend against life’s challenges. Those who don’t have this intimate relationship are at much higher risk of the difficulties in life overwhelming them.
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There is no denying that income and wellbeing are linked. Wellbeing rises consistently with household income up to about $100,000, at which point their paths become less intertwined. However, the power of money to affect wellbeing lies in its capacity to alleviate stress and create an environment for happiness. Accordingly, people can achieve normal levels of wellbeing even with low income, so long as they feel in control of how they spend it.
Sense of purpose
It is imperative for personal wellbeing to be doing something that provides meaning in life. People are happier when they are active, particularly when that activity gives them a sense of purpose or responsibility. For some this may be their job, but the job has to provide more than just financial security. For others it may be a social activity such as being in the local tennis club or Rotary. Or it may be volunteering as a lifesaver, caring for someone or doing or something as simple as gardening.
So there you have it, the secret to happiness. How are you doing on these three fronts? Which could you improve on?