Is there a key to happiness? It’s among humanity’s biggest questions and one that we still don’t fully know the answer to. While scientists are getting closer to pinpointing certain factors that may increase happiness, there are several reasons why finding a universal formula isn’t straightforward.
Happiness is a complex phenomenon that is difficult to define and measure in an objective way. Sam Jahara (opens in new tab), a psychotherapist at Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy in the U.K., told Live Science that happiness is usually linked to feelings of joy, ease and gratitude. Happy people often have a positive outlook on their life, both past and present and despite negative circumstances, and they look forward to the future, she said.
But happiness is not the same as life satisfaction, said Maurice Duffy (opens in new tab), a mindset coach and visiting professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Sunderland in the U.K.
“When we are describing happiness, we are saying that our mental state is happy,” he told Live Science. “When we are describing life satisfaction, we are making a value judgment over something in our control and whether we perceive it benefits or harms us, or makes us better or worse off.”
Understanding the science behind happiness is also challenging because the meaning and importance of happiness varies between different cultures, according to a 2016 review published in the journal Current Opinion in Psychology (opens in new tab). Americans tend to define happiness in terms of pleasure and view happiness as a universally positive thing, whereas East Asian and Middle Eastern cultures can see happiness as socially disruptive and are more ambivalent about whether it is a good thing, the review suggests.
The way happiness is measured — mostly using questionnaires and happiness scales — is not precise enough to draw firm conclusions on the formula for happiness either, a 2021 review published in the journal Synthese (opens in new tab) noted.
But despite these challenges, research into happiness suggests there are some common themes, suggesting the key to happiness may still be within science’s reach.
There is growing evidence that physical activity may be central to happiness across a person’s lifespan. A 2020 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (opens in new tab) measured physical activity and happiness in 2,345 young, middle-aged and older adults….
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