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Top 10 Factors Responsible For Happiness (Actual 2020 Data)

What are the biggest factors that are responsible for our happiness? This question is tough to answer, especially since the answer differs from person to person. What makes you happy will not necessarily make your neighbor happy. For that reason, this is quite a difficult question to answer, but I’m still giving it a shot based on actual data.

By studying actual data on happiness, I found out that these are the biggest factors responsible for my happiness: 

  1. Love
  2. Exercising
  3. Relaxing
  4. Career
  5. Friends
  6. Family
  7. Sleep
  8. Hobbies
  9. Traveling
  10. Health

This article will show you exactly why and how I’ve determined these factors as the biggest influence on my happiness. One result of this study is the word cloud that you see here. These are all the factors that have influenced my happiness over the last 7 years.

After reading this article, you’ll know exactly how to find out which factors are responsible for your happiness. Are you ready?

factors of happiness header image

The factors of my happiness, based on >7 years of data

What is happiness exactly? What is there to learn about happiness? This article is a part of the most in-depth guide on how to be happy, which answers these questions in the first section: What Is Happiness?

The 10 biggest factors that are responsible for my happiness

I have been tracking my happiness for the last 7 years. Each day, I have briefly reflected on my day and determined which factors had the biggest influence on my happiness. This covers about 90% of the very simple method I use for tracking my happiness.

In order to give you an idea of what kind of happiness factors have influenced my life over the past 7 years, I have created a word cloud of these happiness factors. This word cloud is based on 2,019 days of data!

the factors of my happiness data

A word cloud of the factors that are responsible for my happiness (in the shape of a cloud)

Based on this actual data, I’ve collected the top 10 factors that are responsible for my happiness.

1. Love: spending time with my girlfriend

The biggest factor of my happiness is my relationship. It had a significant influence on my happiness on 950 days.

What does this mean? Spending time with my girlfriend has historically influenced my happiness the most. My girlfriend and I have been together for more than six years now. We are a happy, normal couple. We love, we laugh, we occasionally disagree, we call each other names, we sometimes agree in the end, but most important of all: we make it work. I can honestly say that I’m happy in love.

If you’re interested, my first-ever happiness case study covered my relationship with a lot of detail.

2. Exercising: running and training my body

The second biggest factor of my happiness is exercising. What does this mean? If you have a look at the word cloud, you’ll see clear proof of this happiness factor. I love to challenge my body, and running is one of my biggest passions. In addition, I sometimes work out, go on hikes and enjoy swimming when I can.

These factors have all greatly contributed to my happiness. In fact, just running along has influenced my happiness on 468 days during the last >7 years. It really is one of the biggest factors of my happiness!

Don’t believe me? This is me, running the Rotterdam Marathon in 2016!

running rotterdam marathon 2016 hugo happiness

3. Relaxing: being worry-free and relaxed

After exercising and spending time with my girlfriend, the biggest factor of my happiness is relaxing.

What does this mean? It means spending time on things that I necessarily have to do. Therefore, relaxing is quite an ambiguous term, since its definition changes from person to person. What does relaxing mean to me?

  • Reading a book
  • Browsing Reddit
  • Enjoying a walk outside
  • Watching soccer or Game of Thrones
  • Laughing at stupid Youtube videos
  • Etc
  • Etc

Want proof? Here’s a picture of me relaxing during a walk through the woods on a winter day:

what makes introverts happy featured image

4. Work: feeling valued and developing professionally

From the day I started working, I have always wondered if I really enjoyed my job. Was I happy with my work, or did I only work for the money? More importantly, how much happiness am I sacrificing for my work?

It turns out that my work has influenced my happiness on 362 days over the last >7 years. This includes both negative and positive days (more on that later).

I’ve analyzed just how happy at work I really am and came to the conclusion that I have it pretty good. Even though it’s sometimes too busy and deadlines are often stressing me out, I feel valued and am able to develop myself professionally every single day. That’s why this is my 4th biggest happiness factor.

5. Friends: having a laugh with friends

Even though I’m quite an introvert, I do love spending time with a small group of friends. Even though I only meet up a couple of times per month, spending time with my friends has an amazing influence on my happiness. In fact, it has influenced my happiness on 288 days during the last 7> years. That comes down to about 14% of the days that are included in this analysis.

I agree with that famous saying: happiness is only real when shared. Luckily, I have some great friends with whom I can share my happiness. It’s why this is the 5th biggest happiness factor for me personally.

Cheers to the weekend March 2019

6. Family: getting together with your family

It’s no coincidence that the 6th biggest happiness factor is my family. Spending time with my family has influenced my happiness on 238 days during the analyzed period of time.

The truth is, I love spending time with my family, mainly my parents, brother, and sister. Like that time my brother, sister and I ran a marathon together. Or the many dinners at my parents with the entire family. Or when my father takes me and my brother to Austria for a couple of days of hiking in the mountains.

I am extremely thankful for having a loving family, and it’s no surprise to me that this is such a big factor for my happiness.

7. Sleep: feeling well-rested and sharp

This happiness factor is quite different than the rest. How can you quantify the amount of influence sleep has on your happiness?

It’s actually quite easy. I’ve been tracking my sleep habits for a couple of years now, which has enabled me to determine how much sleep influences my happiness. The results were quite surprising to me. When I’m sleep-deprived, there is a much bigger chance of experiencing sadness – or unhappiness – when compared to days where I feel sharp and well-rested.

For example, a feeling of tiredness had a negative influence on my happiness during 226 days of the last >7 years. That’s why I’ve determined sleep to be my 7th most important happiness factor.

sleep is a big factor of my happiness

8. Hobbies: the things that we’re passionate about

Hobbies are my 8th biggest happiness factor. What are my hobbies?

  • Playing music
  • Playing videogames
  • Working on Tracking Happiness (hey, that’s this website!)

These are the things that I do in my “downtime”. These allow me to relax, chill and decompress. That’s why my hobbies are one of my biggest factors of happiness. For example, music alone has influenced my happiness on 142 days within the last 2,019 days!

Having a hobby to fall back on has a great influence on my happiness!

9. Traveling: going beyond your comfort zone

During the last 6 years, I’ve found out that traveling is something I really enjoy (like every goddamn millennial!)

My point is, that traveling provides me with a feeling of excitement that I can’t really find anywhere else. It’s the perfect way to discover new things in life that interest me. Things that I would have never found otherwise.

Here’s a picture of me during my latest trip to the beautiful Azores. That smile probably explains why traveling is part of my top 10 biggest factors of happiness.

smiling on top of sete cidades apr 2019

10. Health: feeling fit and healthy

This last happiness factor is quite important to mention. Within the 2,019 days that I’ve analyzed here, there have been 78 days in which I felt sick, feverish or unhealthy. That’s about 4% of the time.

I want to state here that I feel really lucky to be in relatively good health. I have never been very sick, and apart from a few fractured bones, I’ve always been physically healthy.

I understand that for some people, health is a much bigger happiness factor. The thing is, this is just my own personal top 10 factors of happiness. It’s clear that a person who experiences a severe disability or disease, health can be ranked much higher in the list of happiness factors.

What makes a factor of happiness?

The answer to this question is really simple. A happiness factor can be anything that has a significant influence on your happiness.

Allow me to explain:

If I go to work and I have a terrible day and it stresses me out, then my work is a happiness factor. A happiness factor is something that happens to you that significantly influences your happiness on a given day. This could be an activity (like work, or running), an event (like a party or Christmas) or a feeling (like feeling inspired or restless).

This means there is a practically endless list of factors that could influence your happiness. And this list obviously differs for every person out there!

Why my factors of happiness are not the same as yours

In a recent article I published, I wrote about how your definition of happiness is as unique as you are yourself. What makes you happy doesn’t necessarily make another person happy. In fact, your definition of happiness changes over time.

I’ve tracked my factors of happiness every single day for the last 7> years, so I know how exactly how much this list of happiness factors changes. If I had to write this article in 7 years from now, it’s very likely that this top 10 would look different. If I asked you right now to create your own top 10 biggest happiness factors, then you’ll likely come up with something totally different as well.

Again, your definition of happiness is different than mine, so that means that your factors of happiness are also completely different. Think of your happiness definition as a flake of snow. No two snowflakes are the same. In a similar way, your personal happiness definition and the factors that influence it are unique.

unique happiness snowflake definition

Factors of happiness can be both positive and negative

It’s important to know is that any happiness factor can be both positive and negative. For example, my work can either stress me out or make me feel productive and valued. Work can have positive and negative effects on my happiness. This is true for a lot of happiness factors.

And it is important to be aware of that.

Therefore, whenever I track my happiness and the happiness factors that influence it, I take the time to determine both the positive and the negative happiness factors.

If you scroll back up to the word cloud, you will notice that there are some happiness factors that sound very negative. Some examples of clear negative happiness factors:

  • Hangover
  • Bored
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Pain
  • Emotional instability
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia

These are just a couple of examples that have had an influence on my happiness at some point over the last 5> years.

Tracking the factors responsible for my happiness

I want to mention again that I’ve been tracking my happiness for over 7 years now. What does this mean? It means I spend 2 minutes every day reflecting on my day:

  • How happy was I on a scale from 1 to 10?
  • What factors had a significant effect on my happiness? (I used this data to create this top 10!)
  • I clear my head by jotting down all my thoughts in my happiness journal.

This allows me to constantly learn from my own happiness definition and the factors that influence it. By looking back at my happiness journal, I learn all sorts of things about happiness and how it shapes my life. This is how I purposefully try to steer my life in the best direction possible. And I believe you can do the same!

Closing words

By studying actual data on happiness, I found out that the biggest factors responsible for my happiness are love, relaxing and exercising. It is obviously very unlikely for you to share the exact same results! The simple truth remains that what makes me happy does not necessarily make you happy as well. Our happiness definition is as unique as we are ourselves!

Therefore, I’d love to hear more about your factors of happiness. What makes you the happiest? Let me know in the comments!

Founder of Tracking Happiness

Founder of Tracking Happiness and lives in the Netherlands. Ran 5 marathons, with one of them in under 4 hours (3:59:58 to be exact). Data junkie and happiness tracker for over 7 years.

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