A lot of research on happiness and subjective well-being has been done over the last fifty years or so – seems like everyone wants to determine the exact formula for joy. While there is never going to be a specific prescription for attaining happiness, there are some important findings that can be guidelines for us. Here are 5 prerequisites for finding satisfaction or experiencing happiness in life:

1. Human beings need relationships to enjoy optimum well-being and happiness. This is a simple truth – we are born with a strong drive to establish connections with others. While many of us think that we will be happy when we find “true love,” or whatever we feel approximates that, it is NOT romantic relationships that are required for happiness. Simply having good friends who encourage and support you will contribute just as much to your overall feelings of happiness and contentment in life.

2. Being kind to others is essential to finding a sense of personal happiness. Our human brains are wired so that we feel joy when we behave in altruistic ways. Just making plans to do something nice for others – whether it is throwing a party for a friend, volunteering your time for a worthy cause, or planning a monetary donation – will give you a boost and generate a sense of satisfaction and well-being.

3. Acknowledging the abundance of your own life – no matter how austere or extravagant it might be – and experience gratitude for these people, experiences, and things also positively contribute to a sense of well-being. The drive to attain more and more is counter to the expression of gratitude and a feeling of contentment with who and where you are in life. The pursuit of “things” only has value if you cherish the pursuit more than the “thing” it might yield.

4. Finding a sense of meaning and purpose in your pursuits in life are necessary to contentment and happiness. Believing that you are contributing to something beyond yourself and being a part of something larger than your individual existence are also necessary to experience a feeling of peace that is a part of happiness.

5. Making healthy lifestyle choices in terms of your basic needs – sleep, nutrition, and exercise – also contributes to your happiness in life. There are many research studies that show that regular exercise – even just a daily walk – is effective in reducing depression. Contemplation activities, such as yoga, meditation, reflection, also are proven to reduce stress and promote well-being. Depending on your age, many people think a good night’s sleep is “optional,” but research shows that poor sleeping habits lead to greater stress, increased risk for cardiovascular illness, and even weight gain. Sure, you can “sleep when you’re dead,” to paraphrase a movie title, but why would you want to risk an earlier demise than you would otherwise need to? Regarding nutrition, healthy diets really do affect your overall health. And your physical health affects your happiness significantly. A recent research study has shown that including fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet also reduces depression and anxiety. Trading the short-term convenience of addictive processed foods or the pleasures of over indulgence of alcohol or nicotine or others recreational drugs may bring that fleeting “high,” but the crash that follows not only affects you the day you feel it, but has a lasting negative affect on your long-term health and long-term happiness.

If you think about what brings you happiness in life, if your answer is related to acquisition of possessions, think about the let-down you feel once the novelty or thrill of the purchase is over. Perhaps you are imbuing a lot more power into a material object than it warrants. Thinking about your most treasured and successful romantic relationship . . . was the satisfaction based on simply “possessing” the person or the experiences and feelings that were benefits of the relationship?

– Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D.

Read more: Happiness Is a Practice, Not a Destination

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