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Happiness and its relationship with health

January 3, 2024
4 minutes
Evidation Highlights
Evidation highlights

We recently asked our members about their level of happiness: “All things considered, how happy would you say you are?” More than 93,000 people from all 50 states answered, telling us that:

  • 53% were “Very happy”
  • 17% were “Happy”
  • 20% answered “Neutral”
  • 10% were “Not very happy” or “Not at all happy”

With 70%, or more than 65,000, of our members saying they were very happy or happy, we thought we’d dig into what this means and share our insights here.

Happiness is increasingly recognized as an important part of overall health. March 20 has been the official International Day of Happiness for the last 10 years, a day that recognizes happiness as “a fundamental human goal” and encourages countries around the world to consider happiness in their public policies. The United Nations also issues its annual “World Happiness Report” on that day. In the 2023 report, Finland was considered the happiest country in the world for the sixth year in a row!

What does it mean to be “happy"?

The simple dictionary definition of happiness is a “state of well-being and contentment,” but as you can imagine, having a sense of well-being and contentment can mean different things for different people. What you consider important for your well-being, and therefore happiness, is probably not the same as your partner, your parents, your neighbors, or your friends.

For the World Happiness Report, the United Nations takes into account 14 different physical and mental health items, including our relationships with our family, at work, and in the community, as well as the amount of social support we feel that we receive, satisfaction with our work situation, and the amount of personal freedom we believe we have.

Researchers specializing in happiness also suggest that happiness is made up of many different aspects of our life, including our:

  • Feelings of joy, pleasure, and cheerfulness
  • Sense of purpose in life
  • Satisfaction with our quality of life

The researchers drew this diagram to show how different factors contribute to our happiness:

Steptoe A. Happiness and Health. Annual Review of Public Health 2019;40(1):339-359

What did we find out about happiness in the Evidation community?

When we look at the diagram above, it’s clear that happiness is affected by many different parts of our lives, some that we can control and others that we can’t. To look at some of the traits of our Evidation community that influenced their happiness, we used the answers about happiness we reported at the beginning of this article and linked those with where our members live (by zip code), the size of their cities or towns, and their relationship status.

We found that the five happiest states were:

  1. Kentucky
  2. Arkansas
  3. Mississippi
  4. Louisiana
  5. Utah

Interestingly, four of the five states are located in the Southeast. 

  • People in Kentucky were more likely to be married or living with partners (74%) than people in California (60%) or New York (58%), who reported lower levels of happiness. 
  • People in Kentucky were more likely to live in smaller towns and rural areas. 
  • For people in the Southeastern states, happiness generally was higher in more rural neighborhoods.
  • Compared with people living in the Southeast, people in California and Montana (who were not as happy) said they were less likely to receive or provide help or support from people close to them.

How does happiness affect health and vice versa?

Now that we’ve looked at what can affect our levels of happiness, what does that have to do with our health? It’s not really an easy question to answer because of how complex both happiness and health are, but research over the last couple of decades has shed light on ways that being happier or having greater well-being can be positive for health, including:

Some of the findings we had from the Evidation community might be related to how connected we are to the people around us, regardless of how many people there are. Having close relationships has also been linked to greater happiness and a longer lifespan in a long-term study. Positive social relations can also improve your ability to overcome stress and maintain a positive outlook.

It’s for these reasons that the United Nations and other global organizations emphasize the importance of a population’s happiness in government planning.

What are some actions you can take to improve your well-being and happiness?

Each of us can also take actions to improve our own levels of happiness and therefore our health. Not every action needs to be large. In fact, results from a study called BIG JOY showed that micro-acts or small actions performed every day had a big impact on emotional well-being (life satisfaction, happy feelings, meaning in life), positive emotions, enhancing relationships, and improving sleep. Below are some suggestions for ways you can add to your well-being.

Enhance your social support network by reaching out to friends, family, and coworkers or joining a professional organization, sports club, church group, book club, or other group-based activity.

Perform selfless acts for others by volunteering at a local organization, helping a stranger in need, or donating money to your favorite charity.

Fit in some physical activity by taking a walk, parking further away at the grocery store, joining a fitness class, or dancing to your favorite song.

Spend time in nature by eating your lunch outside, sitting on a bench in your local park, or joining a guided hike.

These are just a few examples of ways research has shown can enhance well-being — try one, many, or all and find others that fit into your life and bring you joy.

Want to receive personalized health insights? Complete cards daily in the Evidation app and, if you haven’t already, connect a compatible health app. 

Don’t yet have an Evidation account? Download the app today!

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