THE BLOG
08/12/2013 12:08 pm ET | Updated Oct 12, 2013

What You Really Need to Be Happy

Only one in three Americans describes themselves as "very happy" according to a Harris Poll. In a country with so much material wealth and comfort, shouldn't we be happier? Many experts cite economic woes contributing to more stress and overall dissatisfaction, but I'd like to suggest my own ideas here.

Happiness is found in simple things, and that is something many of us have lost touch with. I have friends who have had the opportunity to volunteer in third-world countries and they have all commented on how happy most people appeared, despite such abject poverty. These underprivileged people gave freely of the little material they had and appeared to find happiness in family, nature and community. I am sure the adults have a level of constant stress related to protecting and feeding their families, so I'm not saying that we should ditch our lovely homes, massive supermarkets, clean drinking water and sanitation. What I am saying is that we have an opportunity to embrace the simple joys, leading to a peaceful joy, while embracing and living our passion in life, which can lead to a whole new level of satisfaction and fulfillment.

Here is what I see as the progression of happiness:

Taking pleasure in simple joys and being in awe of the beauty that surrounds us. This means appreciating a sunrise, savoring a cup of coffee, snuggling with a child, hugging your friend or smelling a flower. Really, the basis of this simple joy is being grateful and feeling thankful as you notice all the kind people, beautiful sights, and blessings that surround you. This is what people in third-world countries often do so well and we tend to forget about.

Making enough money to cover basic economic needs. An article in Forbes describes how researches at Princeton analyzed a Gallup study (which surveyed more than 450,000 U.S. households), and found that happiness increased in participants as their incomes increased... up to $75,000. There is no increase in happiness after earning more than that. This tells me that the stress of not having enough to pay for bills, groceries and family activities can cause our happiness to be impacted, but that wealth doesn't bring happiness either.

The "grand trio" of gratitude, adequate income and feeling respected. If you can find joy in the simple pleasures of life, make enough money to pay your bills and live comfortably, and feel respected, then you are well on your way to serious happiness. Research published in the journal Psychological Science showed that overall happiness was strongly correlated to feeling admired and respected -- much more than the amount of money one has in his or her bank account.

Beyond bliss -- the grand trio plus vibrant health, fulfilling work and a sense of community! I had to mention health here because if you are not feeling well or if you are exhausted and run down all the time, then you can't possibly live your life to the fullest. It's much more difficult to feel happy until you are well rested and healthy. Make your basic health a major priority and try not to take wellness for granted! I know that I am happiest when I feel passionate and fulfilled by my work and feel balanced in my home life. You are starting to approach bliss when you are healthy and know you are doing something worthwhile in your profession that gives you a deep sense of gratification. Add in a network of supportive friends and family who make you feel like you "belong" and as though someone will always your back can push you in to the realm of deep joy.

What are your thoughts about what makes people truly happy? Where can you make tweaks in your life to bring more joy? Working your tail off to make six figures at the expense of your ability to savor time with your family or enjoy the simple things might be things to reconsider.

I wish each of you more simple pleasures, gratitude, respect, vibrant health and love in your life!

For more by Erin Cox, click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.

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