“We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness…”

                                                                                    - Declaration of Independence


What does the “pursuit of happiness” mean to you? How does one become happy? What does it mean to be happy?


Happiness is the overall experience of pleasure and meaning. A happy person enjoys positive emotions while perceiving his life as purposeful. Pleasure is about the experience of positive emotions in the here and now, about present benefit; meaning comes from having a sense of purpose, from the future benefit of our actions.


Findings from thirty years of research on life satisfaction show that happiness requires having clear-cut goals in life that give us a sense of purpose and direction.


The dangers of unhappiness are well known. For example, the following is a small sample of the possible negative outcomes of living with depression or low life satisfaction:



A widely accepted equation for happiness illustrates how powerfully the behavior we practice daily contributes to our happiness:


S (Set) 50% +C (circumstances) 10% +V (voluntary behavior) 40 % = H (happiness)


Set: is our genetically predetermined happiness set point.

Circumstances: This means our circumstances in life: rich or poor, Lexus or lemon, young or old, Iceland or Italy.

Voluntary Behavior: this is the behavior we can engage in to increase our happiness, or decrease it. The equation above illustrates that 40% of our happiness is within our control.


These are some voluntary behaviors that have shown to increase happiness, or life satisfaction in one’s life:


1.      Committing to your goals

2.      Expressing Gratitude

3.      Cultivating Optimism

4.      Avoiding Overthinking and Social comparison

5.      Practicing acts of kindness

6.      Nurturing relationships

7.      Developing strategies for coping

8.      Learning to Forgive

9.      Doing more activities that truly engage you

10.  Savoring life’s joys

11.  Practicing religion and spirituality

12.  Taking care of your body (Physical Activity)

13.  Taking care of your body  (Meditation)

14.  Journaling

15.  Applying your Strengths



Also, there are multiple studies confirming that the happiest people among us:



The Big Four


There are several different ways to describe the qualities of happy people, but we focus on what is commonly described as the “big four”:


  1. Optimism. Happy people are optimistic because they tend to believe that they will experience happy outcomes and resolve problems more quickly than pessimists believe they will.
  2. Self-Confidence: Happy people are self-confident and like themselves.
  3. Extroversion: Happy people are extroverted and thrive on energy that is created by interacting with others, joining groups, and helping others feel at ease.
  4. Self-Efficacy: Happy people have self-efficacy, which simply means they not only set goals but have a strong belief in themselves that they either have what it takes to get something done or can learn how to get it done.


One of the reasons we like this list of traits is because they are not hardwired from birth; they can be cultivated. For example, optimism training is quite well-known and very effective, and natural introverts can fake extroversion.


How to Build Self-Efficacy


Self-efficacy is just like a muscle that you can build in four ways that simple to understand but not easy to accomplish.


·         Having Role Models. It’s important to have role models in your day-to-day life who demonstrate what you need to do to accomplish your goals. Sponsors perform this function in twelve-step groups.

·         Having a Cheerleader. If you have someone in your life who believes in you, and who has also earned your trust because his or her feedback is on-target and helpful, you can increase your belief in your own sills and take risks that you might not take otherwise. The wrong kinds of cheerleaders are those who simply tell us what we want to hear, or who never encourage us to stray outside our comfort zones.

·         Managing stress appropriately. When we learn to manage stress and its physical symptoms appropriately, we preserve and bring a more optimistic mind-set to goal pursuit.

·         Having mastery experiences. This is the most powerful way any of us can build self-efficacy-by having “wins” that allow us to redefine who we are.


The Right to be Happy


Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”

 - Marianne Williamson



As this quote demonstrates, sometimes our biggest obstacle is to believe that we have the right to happiness.



  1. What famous happiness document does the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” come from? Bonus: Who wrote it?


  1. Happiness is ________________________________________________.


  1. Happiness requires __________________________________ us a sense of purpose and direction.


  1. What is the equation for happiness? According to this, how much of our happiness is within our control?


  1. Choose any two voluntary behaviors (happiness strategies) from the list, and explain how these have helped you feel happier in the past.


  1. Choose any one voluntary behavior that you have not used and explain how you could put it into practice to improve your life.


  1. Of the 8 bullets describing characteristics of “the happiest people among us” which to you consider the most important to your own happiness?


  1. What are the big four?


  1. Which of the four steps to building self-efficacy do you feel would be most difficult for you? Explain why you think this.


  1. Read the quote from Marianne Williamson and try to state in your own words what you believe she is trying to say. Include whether or not you agree with her in your answer.