These are the two universal elements of happiness, according to science

happy adults friends cooking together strong social ties

By Barbara Carrellas

Happiness is such a personal thing — what makes me jump for joy might not even raise a smile for you. And happiness can also seem astonishingly brief — it can fly away as quickly as it arrives. We all have a list of specifics about what makes us happy, but what are the core principles of happiness — the ones that we all share?

According to scientists at UC Berkeley, there are two universal elements to being happy:

1. Having strong social ties.
2. Being a part of something bigger than yourself, i.e. the greater good.

Well, that seems simple! All you have to do is find, build and maintain good, strong interpersonal relationships and commit to contributing to the world in a meaningful way. These two pillars of happiness may seem simple, but for many of us, they are not so easy to accomplish.

But what about puppies and sunshine?

The price of happiness?

Money doesn’t buy happiness, right? Well, actually it can, especially if it gets you out of a miserable situation — like extreme poverty. One study showed that having money will increase your wellbeing, but only up to $75,000. Beyond that, you simply get used to having money so it won’t increase your bliss in the long run.



What if you’d like to have better relationships but aren’t quite there yet? What if you’re still figuring out your mission in life? Does that mean you can’t be happy?

How about little everyday things, like eating the perfect French fry, or nuzzling a cute puppy, or feeling the morning sun on your face? Aren’t those things happy-making? Well, yes they are, according to the Berkeley researchers.

They say that while happiness is the tendency “to feel positive emotions,” real happiness is a bigger, wider and more expansive condition. It’s being involved and feeling wanted and needed. Deep happiness radiates from being connected to others and doing something that matters.

adult woman extremely happy

How to be chronically happy

The first step to serial happiness is knowing that it’s within your reach. Start small and act locally. Find or strengthen your community and social ties. Get back in touch with friends you felt like you were too busy to keep up with. Skip the Netflix binge this weekend and make an effort to get out. In fact, dial down your social media engagement in favor of real face time with friends.

Then move on to the bigger picture. Do you feel like what you do is worthy? It doesn’t matter which corner of your life holds your passion. Perhaps your work is dull but your volunteer hours at the local animal shelter give you purpose and joy. Or the time you spend with your children makes you feel that you are contributing to a brighter future for the planet. Or maybe the blog you write acts as an important support system for people struggling with an illness you’ve survived.

You get the idea. Lots of factors can affect your ability to secure a happy life experience, with some researchers assigning the biggest share of influence to your basic environment. This includes the people and places you see all the time, how you spend your waking hours as well as your outlook on the world.

While this concept is still just a sociological theory, it suggests that it’s not as hard as you may think to change your level of happiness. Take steps to become less fearful of others, or ratchet down your pursuit of being right all the time. Just learning to be more aware of your personal obstacles to happiness can be life-changing.

So, go on and feel happy when you see a Chihuahua wearing a letter sweater. Enjoy being content when you’re snuggled in bed with your partner. And celebrate like crazy when you’re sharing a success with your co-workers. These sweet little moments are stepping stones to even greater and more satisfying happiness.




Want more ideas to increase your happiness? We have 5 (and a half) more here.