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By Eric Barker
March 7, 2014

What happens when you look at the happiest people and scientifically analyze what they have in common? Researchers did just that.

Relationships, Relationships, Relationships

There was a clear answer to what differentiated these people from everyone else — and it wasn’t money, smarts, age, gender or race.

It was strong social relationships.

Via The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

The Grant Study (which followed a group of men for their entire lives) found that “the capacity to love and be loved was the single strength most clearly associated with subjective well-being at age eighty.”

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

If you do one thing today to be happier, spend time with friends.

Not spending more time with people we love is something we regret the most.

(More on the power of relationships here.)

Do More, Not Less

The happiest people are those that are very busy but don’t feel rushed:

I know, you’re tired. You want a break. But doing nothing is not the answer. Too much time is a burden:

So what do you need to be doing?

Things you’re good at.

Signature strengths” are the things you are uniquely talented at — and using them brings you joy.

People who deliberately exercised their signature strengths on a daily basis became significantly happier for months.

Via The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

Signature strengths are the secret to experiencing more “flow” at work and in life. Exercising them is why starving artists are happier with their jobs.

The old saw “those who do what they love never work a day in their life” seems true.

(More on the “more” theory of happiness here.)

Do Not Stay In A Job You Hate

Karl Pillemer of Cornell University interviewed nearly 1500 people age 70 to 100+ for his book “30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans.”

What piece of advice were they more adamant about than any other? More adamant about than lessons regarding marriage, children and happiness?

Do not stay in a job you dislike.

Via 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans:

Take a lesson from people who have already seen most of what life has to offer: do not waste time in a job you hate.

(More on what you can learn about happiness from older, wiser folks here.)

Plan Your Happiness

It’s ironic that we treasure happiness so much yet often treat it as this random bit of alchemy we luck into. That’s silly.

Passively waiting for happiness is a losing proposition. Happiness needs regular appointments.

Schedule the things that make you happy.

Is this overly simple and obvious? Yes. Do you regularly do it? Probably not.

In my interview with Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker, author of The Dragonfly Effect, she explained:

Look at the things that make you happy and plan them into your calendar and schedule.

Do not wait for happiness. Game the system. Happiness card-counting. Happiness Moneyball. Refuse to leave it to chance.

(More on scheduling happiness here.)

Happiness Isn’t Everything

No one confuses the type of happiness ice cream brings with the positive feelings one gets from raising a good kid.

Happiness is a vague word. We need happy feelings but we also need meaning in our lives.

And research shows they are related but distinct:

Researchers at Tohoku University in Japan did a 7 year study of over 43,000 adults age 40 to 79 asking if they had ikigai (a Japanese term for meaning in life) and then tracked their health.

People with ikigai were much more likely to be alive 7 years later.

Via Pursuing the Good Life: 100 Reflections on Positive Psychology:

Running marathons is painful. Completing them is awesome. Studying is boring. Having a degree feels great.

Happiness in the moment is not everything.

In his TED talk, Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow discussed two different types of happiness that sound very similar to the distinction between happiness and meaning.

The first is being happy in your life. It is happiness that you experience immediately and in the moment.

The second is being happy about your life. It is the happiness that exists in memory when we talk about the past and the big picture. Stories are key here. This is closer to “meaning.”

(More on how to lead a meaningful life here.)

Give — But *Not* Until It Hurts

Giving makes us happier than receiving. In fact, it can create a feedback loop of happiness in your life.

Helping others reach their goals brings joy. Doing nice things for others today can literally make you happier for the rest of the week.

However, being a martyr stresses you out and is bad for your health.

Via Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success:

What to do? Do all your giving one day a week.

Via Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success:

How much should you give? Remember The 100 Hour Rule. One hundred hours a year — in other words, 2 hours per week.

Via Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success:

(More on the power of giving here.)

Want to be a giver and be happier? Share this post with a friend and spread some happiness.

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Related posts:

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

Here are the things proven to make you happier

What are the three ways to train your brain to be happy?

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Read next: 10 Positive Habits That Could Change Your Life

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