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What Are the Secret Ingredients for Happiness?

Take charge of your own happiness and success.

Key points

  • Happiness is not just an outcome of success but it's actually a factor to create success.
  • Happiness has been researched extensively and we can influence our own level of happiness.
  • Factors that increase happiness include choosing to be generous and kind, practicing gratitude, cultivating strengths, and meditation.

Millions of people throughout the world, from all walks of life, aspire to be happier. Are you one of them?

In October 2022, I published a post called 30 Tips for Greater Happiness that received thousands of views in the first week. Clearly, many of us want to experience more moments of happiness and hope to learn the “secret” ingredients to bring more of it into our lives.

When we’re frequently hit with bad news and difficult times, it can be hard to experience a sense of happiness, compassion, and balance. Yet according to experts who study well-being, it is possible to seek happiness even amid life’s challenges. What are the ingredients for happiness? Or, are the ingredients so simple that sometimes we just don’t notice them?

Daniel Reche/Pixabay
Source: Daniel Reche/Pixabay

Research studies show that happiness is not simply an outcome of success but is actually an ingredient to create success in life (Lyubomisky, 20213; Lyubomirsky, King & Diener, 2005).

So, what is happiness? The American Psychological Association defines happiness as feelings of satisfaction, joy, and well-being (APA, 2022). Harvard University positive psychologist Tal Ben Shahar, Ph.D., writes that happiness is “the overall experience of pleasure and meaning” (Ben Shahar, 2007). And happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., (2008) explains that experiencing life as worthwhile and meaningful is an important aspect of happiness.

If happiness is not just a feel-good experience, how can we take charge of our happiness? The factors that contribute to building happiness and well-being have been studied extensively by positive psychologists. According to Dr. Lyubomirsky and her colleague Kristin Layous, Ph.D., those of us wanting to experience greater happiness don’t need to rely on unsubstantiated advice from self-help books or pop magazines. There’s mounting evidence from controlled, randomized studies showing “that relatively simple intentional changes in one’s thoughts and behaviors can precipitate meaningful increases in happiness” (Lyubomirsky & Layous, 2013).

A study by Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, and Schkade (2005) looked at 51 researched interventions and found that people who practiced positive intentional activities became significantly happier. According to many researchers (Lyubomirsky, 2013; Lama & Tutu, 2016; Seligman, et al, 2005; Fredrickson, Cohn, Coffey, Pek & Finkel, 2008), factors that increase happiness include:

  1. Reframing or visualizing an experience more positively
  2. Choosing to be generous and kind
  3. Practicing and experiencing gratitude
  4. Cultivating strengths
  5. Meditating

The acronym PERMA can help us further clarify the factors that build happiness (Seligman, 2012). The components of the PERMA model are:

  • P – Positive Emotions
  • E – Engagement/Flow
  • R – Relationships
  • M – Meaning/Purpose
  • A – Accomplishments/Achievements

According to Martin Seligman, Ph.D., happiness and well-being are high PERMA, while languishing (feelings of dissatisfaction, blah, stagnation, unsettled) is low in PERMA (Seligman, 2012; Ackerman, 2018). Even when life serves up tough stuff, you typically have opportunities to experience components of PERMA, inviting more moments of happiness and wellbeing into your life. Many happiness ingredients are products of actions and choices — not one-and-dones — but rather the products of ongoing behaviors and pursuits. Simple moment by moment choices can improve your sense of well-being.

Happiness thrives on living with intention. The A in PERMA is about setting intentions for yourself and aiming toward clear, specific, attainable goals. Then take action, one manageable chunk at a time to bring your goals and positive habits to reality.

Consider your own life. How can you take charge of your own happiness? How can you help generate more happiness opportunities to inspire those around you to choose greater happiness in their lives?

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. No content is a substitute for consulting with a qualified mental health or healthcare professional.

©2022 Ilene Berns-Zare, LLC, All Rights Reserved


Ackerman, C.E. (2018). What is flourishing in positive psychology?

APA Dictionary of Psychology (2022).

Ben-Shahar, T. (2007). Happier: Learn the secrets to daily joy and lasting fulfillment (Vol. 1). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Lyubomirsky S. & Layous, K. (2013). How do simple positive activities increase well-being? Current directions in psychological science, 22(1), 57-62.

Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success?. Psychological bulletin, 131(6), 803.

Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The how of happiness: A new approach to getting the life you want. New York, NY: The Penguin Press.

Seligman, M. E. (2012). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

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