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Eudaimonia, Hedonism, and Happiness, Oh My!

Everyone wants to be happy - it's a no-brainer. But what is happiness? The Greek word for happiness is "eudaimonia" which means "having a guiding angel." In 1776, the Founding Fathers felt it important enough to mention the" pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence. By the 19th century, economists felt they could measure happiness in units of pleasure, but they learned that money could not buy happiness because a person with twice as much income as another was not necessarily two times happier. They learned that deep inner happiness was not measurable. Recently, AARP looked at measuring happiness on a three- point scale (very happy, pretty happy and not too happy) and other researchers have compared responses over time or among difference demographic groups or even countries. Trying to understand what makes people happy gives us an opportunity to help people achieve inner happiness and well-being.

So what makes people happy?

Relationships are a key driver of happiness, including friends, family and even pets.

While this may not be a surprise, relationships are the key driver of happiness, including friends, family and even pets. In fact,  the top attributes chosen by more than 4,000 adults ages 35 to 80 in the AARP study were: "kissing or hugging someone you love," "watching children, grandchildren or a close relative succeed," "being told you are a person who can be trusted or relied upon," "spending time with family or friends," and "experiencing a special moment with a child." None of these take a lot of money to achieve, they are 'simple' pleasures that can be had by all.

Without good health it is difficult to achieve happiness.

Further, without good health it is difficult to achieve happiness. People in "good or excellent" health (self-reported) are three times more likely to report being very happy. However, health may be as much a state of mind as reality, as the percentage of those reporting good health is fairly stable over the 35-80 year age range, varying only 7 percentage points, while actual reported chronic or serious medical conditions increase 400% over the same 45-year age range. Money does matter somewhat and happiness is higher among those with more income, but money is only a resource that needs to be applied to meaningful areas or experiences that can increase happiness.

Finally, the majority of those surveyed feel they have control over their personal level of happiness and this sense of control increases with age. People who feel in control are 2.5 times happier than those who believe happiness is out of their control. This sense of control is linked to higher income and good health.

AARP's goal is to help individuals 50 years and older and their families attain and maintain financial security and health and adapt to the changes and life events inevitable as they get older. This research shows that if we can help folks feel in better control of these areas, they will be in a better position to enjoy life.

This is what I and my colleagues at AARP strive for every day.

AARP Research Happiness Infographic


More from A ARP Research: Beyond Happiness: Thriving, AARP Happiness Study, 2012

More on Becky: Becky is AARP's Senior Vice President of Research & Strategic Analysis, and is focused on fostering understanding of the interests and concerns of people age 50-plus and their families. Before coming to AARP, Becky served as the Vice President of Global Market Research & Guest Satisfaction for Starwood Hotels & Resorts. In her spare time, she likes visiting her niece in Ohio, gardening and collecting American art and antiques.


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