A new study, published in scientific journal Nature, examines the way happiness runs through our genetic makeup and some of the things that affect it. The results pinpoint some of the crucial areas that you can focus on to increase your happiness — and not just one kind of happiness.

The study operates from the premise that happiness can mean a lot of things, and strives to provide answers that respond to that variety. To do so, it proposes two categories of happiness: hedonistic and eudamonic.

Hedonistic happiness is what we might call day-to-day happiness: The study defines it as a concept whose philosophical underpinnings are about “what is good for a person” and a “balance of pleasure over pain.” Eudamonic happiness, on the other hand, is defined by the idea that well-being centers “around virtuous activity, defined as knowledge (practiced over time) and the fulfilment of human capacities.” We might call it a sense of greater meaning.

What the study found is that these two kinds of happiness are deeply entwined, and affected by satisfaction in the same arenas of life. So however happiness looks to you, whether your search for joy centers on feeling good on a daily basis or on the need for greater meaning, the results of this study offer some important places to focus your energy — and some that you shouldn’t worry about, either.

Don’t feel like you have to stay in a job that makes you miserable

There’s usually some value added to your life by whatever job you’re doing, whether that’s purely financial, strategically career-oriented, or in the relationships you’ve cultivated at work.

But if you are dissatisfied with your job, this study’s results indicate you might want to leave: Job satisfaction was the kind of satisfaction most highly correlated with both hedonistic and eudamonic happiness. Where you work and the kind of work you are doing really do have powerful relationships to both your day-to-day emotions and your overarching feelings of meaning in life. So if you’re not happy at work, look for ways to make your job more meaningful to you. If you can’t consider looking for your next step.

Give your friends and family the time they need from you

It can be easy to let friendships and even family relationships languish when faced with the demands of career and the everyday tasks that can’t be avoided — grocery shopping, laundry, getting your child to school. But this study reminds us that it’s imperative to set aside time to spend with the people you love. Friendship and family satisfaction was the variety of satisfaction most highly correlated with happiness, again both sorts, after work satisfaction.

Take care of your body

Like work and family/friend satisfaction, general health satisfaction was highly correlated with happiness in the study, underscoring the need to keep our bodies strong, through exercise, healthy eating, and getting adequate amounts of sleep (the National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours for most adults). It can be overwhelming to try to keep healthy and also maintain social time when you’re busy with work, too — a friend mentioned yesterday that she has to choose between working out or seeing friends on any given day, because her work schedule doesn’t allow her to do both. A solution to this is combining the two kinds of activities: Do something healthy with a friend of family member, like go for a run or cook a healthy meal. You may find your happiness levels elevating as a result.

Don’t over-focus on money

“Financial satisfaction” was the type with the least relation to feelings of both kinds of happiness. Whether or not participants felt satisfied with where they were financially had little bearing on overall feelings of daily happiness or deeper fulfillment. This is in contrast to the importance of job satisfaction — so if you are at a job just because of the financial benefits of that position, consider looking for work options that prioritize fulfillment over finances. A change might leave you happier.

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More from Thrive Global:

8 Things You Should Do After 8 P.M. If You Want to Be Happy and Successful

The One Relationship You’re Probably Ignoring

The One Word That Can Hurt Your Reputation at Work


  • Nora Battelle

    Multimedia Staff Writer at Thrive

    Nora Battelle is a writer from New York City. Her work has been published on the Awl, the Hairpin, and the LARB blog, and she's written for podcast and film. At Swarthmore College, she studied English and French literature and graduated with Highest Honors. She's fascinated by language, culture, the internet, and all the small choices that can help us thrive.