What does it take to make us happy? There is a lot of research being done on that question at the moment, in fact it is seems as if I’m reading about data being released from one university or another on a daily bases.
The latest comes from Deakin University, Melbourne Australia, by way of psychology Professor Robert Cummins, who has proposed what ‘s being called the “golden triangle of happiness.”
This was no short term study. The research is the culmination of 29 surveys over 12 years. There have were some surprising findings; for example, health is not a component of the three elements that make up the golden triangle.
However, there was a cut-off point for maintaining happiness which was a body mass index over 35; under that there was little or no impact.
According to Professor Cummins, “Health is one of the least important domains of our measurement and the reason is that because people adapt to amazingly difficult medical circumstances.” Having studied carefully the effect of body weight on mood and happiness the conclusion was that people who were overweight or even mildly obese maintained a reasonably level of happiness.
Maybe that’s not so surprising in light of recent studies which indicate that health, like wealth, has only a mild and temporary affect to the happiness set point.
The three element that make up Cummins golden triangle are a comfortable (if not substantial by some standards -$100,000 – income,) a nurturing and intimate relationship and engagement or a sense of purpose.
The most important factor, and the strongest of the three corners of the golden triangle, was relationship. In one interview Professor Cummins said:
“You only need one person to share your life and having that person is incredibly important.” “People who haven’t got someone to share their life in an intimate way – where you can share your troubles – are very vulnerable to the bad things that happen to them. This is extremely consistent across all of our surveys.”
He clarified that the relationship need not be necessarily of a sexual nature, but that it did need to be “emotionally intimate.”
One other interesting fact that showed up in this part of the study was having more than one intimate relationship didn’t seem to be increase feeling of well-being. In fact, in many ways it wasn’t as good as having one strong intimate relationship.
The second corner of the triangle is money. I don’t think this is a surprise, and anyone who is poor, living below the poverty line, money most certainly buys happiness.
This particular study concluded that “there is a ceiling of about $100,000 gross household income per year, and once households reach that level, increasing the level of money beyond that really doesn’t do anything for their level of happiness at all.”
I have read other recent studies that have reached slightly different conclusions, but intuitively, I’m inclined to agree with their findings. Cummins also noted that even if more money doesn’t really make us any happier we still don’t appear to “have an off button built into us to stop us from continuously wanting to earn more and more money.”
The final corner in the triangle is engagement or activity. The professor found that engaging in an activity that people where happier and the types of activities with the greatest benefit were those with the strongest social contact.
Professor Cummins added, “If you can combine that activity with social contact and a sense of purpose then that is best. People who do volunteer work combine those very well. There more active they are and more socially connected the better they are. Chess clubs are not very good, for example, because they are not very socially interactive.”
The need for purpose, having something meaningful to do with your life is also a corner stone of Martin Seligman’s “Well-being theory.”
One final thought on the “golden triangle of happiness” study (in fact on all studies of this kind) is a note of caution – which is “beware the pursuit.” Many positive psychologists have noted a correlation between the pursuit of happiness – which taking to heart a study such as this, would qualify as – and feelings of depression. These feeling arise because of a tendency towards critical self-judgment and comparison.
Please see this study for what it is; the elements for creating a “happiness practice” around so that you may boost you your well-being.