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Top 10 Factors Responsible for Happiness (>10 Years of Data)

by Hugo

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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. But I’m still answering this question based on 10 years of my 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. After reading this article, you’ll know exactly how to find out which factors are responsible for your happiness. Are you ready?

The 10 biggest factors that are responsible for my happiness

I have been tracking my happiness for the last 10 years.

For the past 10 years, I’ve reflected every 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 10 years, I have created a word cloud of these happiness factors. This word cloud is based on more than 3,000 days of data!

the factors of my happiness data

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 1,658 days.

What does this mean? Spending time with my girlfriend has historically influenced my happiness the most. 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 in 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 675 days during the last 10 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.

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 419 days over the last 10 years. This includes both negative and positive days (more on that later).

A couple of years ago, I 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 466 days during the last 10 years. That comes down to about 14% of the days that are included in this analysis.

I agree with the 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.

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 351 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 in 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 363 days of the last 10 years. That’s why I’ve determined sleep to be my 7th most important happiness factor

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

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

  • Playing music.
  • Playing videogames.
  • Skateboarding.
  • 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 161 days within the last 3,085 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 10 years, I’ve found out that traveling is something I really enjoy (like every 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 3,085 days that I’ve analyzed here, there have been 119 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 previous 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 10 years, so I know exactly how much this list of happiness factors changes. 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.

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 10 years.

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

Cheat Sheet Download Thumbnail Clean

This Cheat Sheet Will Help You Be Happier and More Productive

Thrive under stress and crush your goals with these 10 unique tips for your mental health.

Wrapping up

By studying my data on happiness, I found out that the biggest factors responsible for my happiness are love, relaxing and exercising. 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!

Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

1 thought on “Top 10 Factors Responsible for Happiness (>10 Years of Data)”

  1. Time with my boyfriend, virtual dinner where we go to the same restaurant in different states and order the same meal and FaceTime for the entire dinner.


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