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What Makes Us Happy? Global Insights on Longevity and Happiness
Photo by Lee Soo Hyun on Unsplash

October 2023 – By Katrina Provan, Polly Westergaard, Ali Hassaine and George Lee

Theme: Happiness

What Makes Us Happy?
Global Insights on Longevity and Happiness

Are you curious about the connection of longevity and happiness? We thought you might be. Eager to find out, This Curious Life went on an exploration to find out what links the two. With the help of our international Voice community and extended network of fellow longevity explorers we were interested in what people thought about age, longevity, well-being, and happiness. The results were interesting and thought-provoking and provide rich insights for innovation. 

Grandmother with her grandduaghter

Photo by Getty on Unsplash

Before exploring what we learnt, it is worth pointing out that our survey participants came from a wide range of ages. We had 24% of respondents under the age of 40, and another 23% who were over the age of 70. This diversity in age brought a beautiful mix of perspectives and experiences to our survey. The rich blend of different age groups added depth, allowing us to explore the factors that shape happiness and well-being from a fuller life viewpoint. 

A neon sign reading LOVE

Photo by Shaira Dela Pena on Unsplash

We asked, “what is happiness to you, in three words?” 

 When we asked people to sum up happiness in just three words, the responses were heartwarming. “Love” stole the show, with a whopping 28% of respondents choosing it to describe their happiness. Right behind, we had “contentment” and “health” at 17% each. These words highlighted the importance of finding inner peace and well-being. 

“Family,” “freedom,” and “peace” emerged as key players, accounting for 16% of responses. They remind us that strong connections, freedom, and a sense of peace are essential ingredients for happiness. 

And let’s not forget “joy” and “purpose.” These words found their special place in the conversation, showing that meaningful experiences and personal fulfillment matter to 9% of our respondents each. 

Lastly, “security” gained 7% of responses, emphasising how feeling safe and protected plays a vital role in our pursuit of happiness.

The time spent with family takes centre stage, with a remarkable 46% of our respondents emphasising its role in their well-being.

We asked, “what makes you happy? 

When we asked the question, three significant themes emerged.

First and foremost, the time spent with family takes center stage, with a remarkable 46% of our respondents emphasising its role in their well-being. Close behind, at 37%, is the importance of our home environment. This underlines the vital role our surroundings play in our overall happiness. Home is where the heart is, as the saying goes, and it seems to play a pivotal role in our daily happiness. 

And then there’s the essential pillar of well-being, our health. It secured a strong 35% of responses. It reminds us that a healthy body and a peaceful mind significantly influence our overall well-being and form a crucial part of the happiness equation. 

But here’s the interesting part: our survey uncovered a diverse range of factors contributing to happiness. Each of them plays a unique role in shaping our individual experiences of joy and contentment. They reflect the intricate range of factors that are crucial in creating a fulfilling and joyful life.  

We asked, “at what time in your life were you most happy and why?” 

The people who participated in our survey shared various moments in their lives when they felt their happiest, with many mentioning specific ages like childhood, teenage years, 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. It’s a mix of when people found their happiness, spanning from the present (31%), early childhood (9%), 20s-30s (16%), and after retirement. Yet, the reasons for their happiness are remarkably similar. The things that brought feelings of happiness include quality time with family (17%),  moments with friends (12%), financial security (16%), the joy of starting a family (20%), the freedom to follow their heart’s desires (13%), the pleasure of having fewer responsibilities (8%), the satisfaction of a good job (11%), and the delight of having time for learning and exploration (16%). 

As one participant joyfully exclaimed, “I’m happy now. I have 3 grandchildren and one more on the way! My daughter and her family live close by, and I see them every day. I help whenever I can, which I consider a pure pleasure. The children keep me young at heart and engaged in the lives of a wide network of people. My son and his family live in a different country, but through WhatsApp, I feel incredibly involved in their lives through photos, videos, and daily contact. I have my health, a loving partner, financial stability, and a pet. What more could I want from life?” 

Others mentioned feeling carefree, having good health, and enjoying their independence as factors that contributed to their happiness. In the words of another participant, “In my 40s, I was a mother with financial security and a new, exciting partner. I also had significant roles in the community and voluntary sector and was politically active – which gave me huge fulfillment.” 

Moreover, many respondents shared their contentment with their current life stage, pointing to factors like financial stability, a fulfilling purpose-driven job, good health, and a supportive community. 

One respondent shared, “Probably now in my 60s, if I don’t include the years after my partner passed away. I am physically at my most active, participating in various sports and activities. My newfound love of contemporary dance and the dance company I’m part of brings me great joy, as does the place where I go to do it…it’s safe, non-judgmental, and lifts my spirit. The freedom I gained after retiring from a job that took over my life makes me happy too. I think I’m only now starting to not worry about what people think. I’ll do what I want, wear what I want, and nurture the things that make me happy.” 

Some respondents also shared their happiness during specific events or experiences, such as traveling, achieving personal goals, and having a sense of purpose. 

One person shared, “As I get older, I try not to dwell on when I’ve been happiest, but instead focus on the here and now. My 40s were probably the most satisfying career-wise, with children becoming independent, financial stability, and a very active social life. But I love the joy of the present…still working, children financially secure, grandchildren, living in a place where I can access nature, and still fit and active.” 

In a nutshell, our survey showed that happiness can be experienced at various stages of life, and it can be influenced by an array of factors. 

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We asked, “what could you do more of to increase your happiness?” 

One insightful respondent shared, “Increase financial stability, gain societal acceptance that age is a stage, and get our political leaders focused on their purpose, not their competition for power.” These sentiments echo the desire for greater financial stability (9%). 

Another respondent emphasised, “To ensure I make time for the things that make me happy. Carving out this time is essential as life just gets in the way.” They stressed the importance of dedicating more time to oneself, including self-care (9%). 

Some of our respondents yearn for a future where they can “spend more time with their grandchildren, travel, exercise, and socialise,” aligning with the primary theme of socialising more with loved ones (28%) and exercising more (16%). Others aspire to “improve their health, have more time for hobbies, and spend more time in nature” (15%). 

Many individuals are seeking greater control over their finances, reflecting the secondary theme of being more financially stable. This includes earning more money or having more financial control over their income (9%). They also hope for increased productivity and more meaningful work, encapsulating the aspiration of having a more purposeful job (6%). 

Some respondents have a strong desire to “volunteer more and reduce their work hours to spend more time with loved ones,” aligning with the theme of giving back to the community (7%) and reducing worries (6%). 

In summary, these diverse responses from the survey highlight the multi-faceted nature of happiness. The pursuit of happiness is a deeply personal journey, and these quotes and themes underscore that it encompasses a wide array of desires and goals, reminding us that happiness is as unique as the individuals who seek it.  

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We asked, “what could you do less of to increase your happiness?” 

Our survey has uncovered a wealth of insights on what people could do less of to enhance their happiness. An overarching theme among respondents is the desire to shed excessive worry, a sentiment shared by a considerable 32%. Many wish to reduce their concerns about things that are beyond their control, such as the state of the world, politics, climate change, and their financial situation in retirement. These sentiments underscore the importance of channeling mental energy away from unwarranted worries and into more positive directions. 

One respondent beautifully expressed, “Worry less about what others think of me,” highlighting the significance of freeing oneself from the burden of external judgments. 

Furthermore, 15% of respondents recognise the need to cut back on social media consumption, as it often serves as a source of comparison and discontent. Additionally, 12% of respondents expressed a desire to work less, emphasising the importance of achieving a healthier work-life balance. 

The secondary themes also shed light on various areas where individuals feel they could ease up to enhance their well-being. These include doing less housework, spending less time watching TV, and distancing themselves from negativity. In essence, the survey results underscore the significance of striking a balance in life, creating space for more meaningful and fulfilling experiences while reducing the stress and distractions that can prevent our happiness.  

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We asked, “what is preventing you from making these changes, and why?” 

Embarking on the journey to greater happiness often involves a nuanced understanding of ourselves. It requires us to consider both what we can do more of to increase our happiness and what we should do less of to attain the same goal. These considerations are deeply personal and can vary greatly from person to person. One common thread among many of our respondents is the desire to worry less, a challenge rooted in the universal human tendency to carry the weight of concerns beyond our control. For some, it’s a deeply ingrained habit of thinking, while for others, it’s a sense of responsibility for the world’s myriad issues. To break free from the cycle of worry about external matters would necessitate a profound shift in mindset, which is indeed a formidable undertaking. 

Financial stability poses a significant roadblock for many, with the burden of not having enough money for a comfortable life casting a shadow on their happiness. Similarly, time constraints and the availability of oneself and loved ones can present challenges to spending more quality time together. Health conditions can also serve as barriers, preventing people from making changes they believe would lead to a happier life. 

One respondent poignantly noted, “It’s difficult to stop worrying if you don’t have enough money to live comfortably these days.” Financial insecurity is a pervasive concern, leaving little room for reducing unwarranted stress. 

For some, the hurdles they face are deeply rooted and beyond their control. One individual shared, “For long-standing and permanent reasons outside my control, I am actively prevented from making new friends, working, volunteering, or traveling. There is nothing I can do to change this, so I have accustomed myself to social isolation.” Life’s circumstances can profoundly shape one’s journey to happiness in unforeseeable ways. 

As we age, concerns about the increasing difficulty of travel and anxieties about climate change may become barriers. Another respondent highlighted the challenges of navigating the job market, saying, “I’m 53, and it is hard to reinvent yourself after I failed with my start-up.” Adapting to career transitions and economic uncertainty can indeed be a daunting task. 

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Our survey set out on a journey to explore happiness and well-being, two vital ingredients for a fulfilling and healthy life. Respondents shared their insights, emphasising the importance of family time, hobbies, mindfulness, and personal growth in enhancing well-being. These insights lead us to some intriguing questions that call for innovation: 

  1. How can we craft innovative solutions to tackle the financial constraints that often stand in the way of individuals pursuing activities that contribute to their happiness and overall health as they age?
  2. What fresh and inventive approaches can be deployed to encourage individuals to prioritise experiences that bring joy and fulfilment over those that don’t, thereby promoting a healthier and longer life?
  3. How can we use innovative technologies and strategies to help individuals overcome barriers such as fatigue, lack of energy, and self-doubt in their pursuit of a longer and healthier life? 
  4. What valuable lessons can we draw from cultural differences that will guide us in innovating for both happy and healthy ageing? 
  5. What technologies are at our disposal to aid in managing well-being for a longer and healthier life? 

In conclusion, our survey has shed light on the rich range of aspirations and challenges among the individuals who took part. It has also underscored the pressing need for innovation, resources, and support to foster happiness, healthy longevity, and an extended, fulfilling life.  

More Information

Would you like to take part in our global insights survey?

If you would like to take part in our global insights surveys, then we would love you to join Voice®. Voice® is a global community where every one of us has a vital role. We are a community of people from all walks of life, different ages, and backgrounds. Everyone has life experiences worth sharing. And we want to hear yours.  

Our aim is to find ways to improve our well-being and longevity and shape a brighter and longer future for generations to come. We believe we should all be given a voice in creating a new map for our lives in a world where we are living longer.  

The Voice community is the driving force at the heart of the National Innovation Centre for Ageing looking at every aspect of our lives as we grow older — where we live, learn, work, exercise, shop, eat, travel, the clothes we wear, and how we have fun and love 

You can find out more information and ways to join Voice here.