I've posted a lot about the research around how to be happier. But being satisfied with your life is something a little different.
Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, gave a TED talk where he explained the two pretty well:
Happiness is being happy in your life. We experience it immediately and in the moment.
Life satisfaction is being happy about your life. It is the happiness that exists when we talk about the past and the big picture.
There's plenty of information about the former — but what about the latter? What can we do to not just be happy in the moment, but to feel satisfied with our lives?
Here's are five things research says can make a difference for you:
Having a lot of close friends boosts life satisfaction by nearly 20 percent.
Having more close friendships was associated with a 19 percent greater life satisfaction and a 23 percent greater sense of optimism. — Richburg 1998 [100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life]
Like your neighbors? That's a double digit boost in life satisfaction too.
Positive feelings about neighbors have been found to be associated with a 16 percent greater life satisfaction and a 25 percent lower likelihood of experiencing feelings of loneliness." — Prezza et al. 2001 [100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life]
Why does religion — any religion — make people so much happier?
It's the friends that a religious community provides. A group of 10 supportive friends seems to be the magic number.
"After examining studies of more than three thousand adults, Chaeyoon Lin and Robert Putnam found that what religion you practice or however close you feel to God makes no difference in your overall life satisfaction. What matters is the number of friends you have in your religious community. Ten is the magic number; if you have that many, you'll be happier. Religious people, in other words, are happier because they feel connected to a community of like-minded people." [The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More]
But it's not all about what you get from friends; giving is extraordinarily powerful too.
Are you mentoring a young person? It's four times more predictive of happiness than your health or how much money you make.
Age, income, and health are four times less likely to predict whether a person is happy than is whether the person feels he or she is having a positive effect on a younger person. — Azarow 2003 [100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life]
(More on how to make and keep friends here.)
Have a life story
Research shows that meaning in life comes from the stories we tell ourselves about our lives.
Ever tried writing that story down? People who do are more than 10 percent happier with their lives.
People who wrote about the history of their lives were 11 percent more likely to feel happy with their lives and 17 percent more likely to feel optimistic about the future. — Yamada 2000 [100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life]
Knowing your family tree gets you a bump in satisfaction as well.
People who were interested in their family and ethnic histories were 6 percent more likely to feel satisfied with their lives. — Mowrer and McCarver 2002 [100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life]
Children who know the stories of those who came before them have higher self-esteem and a sense of control over their lives.
Marshall and Robyn asked those questions of four dozen families in the summer of 2001, and also taped several of their dinner table conversations. They then compared the children's results to a battery of psychological tests and reached some overwhelming conclusions. The more children knew about their family's history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. [The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More]
(More on how to shape the story of your own life here.)
People with goals are nearly 20 percent more satisfied with their lives.
People who could identify a goal they were pursuing were 19 percent more likely to feel satisfied with their lives and 26 percent more likely to feel positive about themselves. — Krueger 1998 [100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life]
Those who are passionate about something score higher across the board on positive psychological indicators.
Elderly individuals who were harmoniously passionate scored higher on various indicators of psychological adjustment, such as life satisfaction, meaning in life, and vitality, while they reported lower levels of negative indicators of psychological adjustment such as anxiety and depression. [Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined]
Goals doesn't mean you need to win an Oscar or make a million dollars. A consistent amount of minor success produces much more satisfaction than occasionally bagging an elephant.
Life satisfaction is 22 percent more likely for those with a steady stream of minor accomplishments than those who express interest only in major accomplishments. — Orlick 1998 [100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life]
Not seeing the success you'd like? Don't give up. Having grit was associated with more life satisfaction.
The capacity to continue trying despite repeated setbacks was associated with a more optimistic outlook on life in 31 percent of people studied, and with greater life satisfaction in 42 percent of them. — Meulemann 2001 [100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life]
(More about setting goals the right way here.)
Money isn't the answer
The more materialistic people are, the less satisfied they are with their lives.
Among participants in one study, those whose values were the most materialistic rated their lives as the least satisfying. — Ryan and Dziurawiec 2001 [100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life]
Spending more money on gifts made holidays less enjoyable.
Among parents studied, greater expenditures for family gifts actually reduced satisfaction with family holidays by 2 percent. — Kasser and Sheldon 2002 [100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life]
Having meaning in your life increases life satisfaction twice as much as wealth.
Those with a modest income who felt there was meaning in their lives were twice as likely to experience life satisfaction as were those who were wealthier but who felt that their lives lacked a sense of meaning. — Debats 1999 [100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life]
(More on the things proven to increase happiness here.)
No, I don't mean eat more cookies.
Have you seen changes in what you believe over the past few months? That's a good thing.
People over 40 who could identify at least one change in their viewpoints or behavior in recent months were 8 percent more likely to feel hopeful about the future and 5 percent more likely to say they were generally in a good mood. — Grossbaum and Bates 2002 [100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life]
Older people who continue to read and learn are much more satisfied with their lives.
People over the age of fifty who said they continued to learn about topics that interested them were 18 percent more likely to feel satisfied with their lives and 43 percent more likely to feel vital. — Helterbran 1999 [100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life]
Keeping an open mind pays huge dividends as the years go by.
Studies focusing on the ability of people to maintain happiness as they age reveal that an openness to change in both family life and work life is associated with a 23 percent greater likelihood of maintaining high levels of life satisfaction. — Crosnoe and Elder 2002 [100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life]
But don't change everything — maintaining strong core values is important.
A willingness to compromise on trivial matters was associated with 62 percent more positive social relations, but a willingness to compromise on matters of values and personal vision was associated with 34 percent less life satisfaction. — Bargdill 1998 [100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life]
(More on how to make sure you never stop growing and learning here.)
Keep in mind the five ways to increase life satisfaction:
2. Have goals
3. Have a life story
4. Money isn't the answer
5. Keep growing
I really think that fifth one is key. If you can't learn, you can't improve. As the Stoic philosopher Seneca once said: "As long as you live, keep learning how to live."
Join 45K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.
More from Barking up the Wrong Tree…
- Here are the things proven to make you happier
- What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?
- 4 lifehacks from ancient philosophers that will make you happier