What makes you happy?

16:00, Feb 21 2014
Happiness word cloud
What survey respondents said makes them happy.
Happiness word cloud
What survey respondents said gave them meaning in their lives.

Despite ageing bodies, older people are happier than the young and fit, according to a Your Weekend reader survey.

Those older than 70 were the most content, rating their happiness at 3.9 out of 5, while the unhappiest were those aged 30-39, at 3.2 out of 5.

The survey was designed by Victoria University developmental psychologist and happiness expert Associate Professor Paul Jose, and was completed by 424 Your Weekend readers.

Dr Jose said while the survey did not delve into the reasons behind people’s level of happiness, the results were consistent with other research that suggested older people were more content.

‘‘Some people are surprised by that because particularly younger people looking at aged and elderly people like myself in their 60s think to themselves ‘My god they’re on death’s doorstep, they must be totally petrified and unhappy about things’.

‘‘But now that I’m this age I can talk for most people in their 60s and 70s – they have a sense of contentment and happiness and satisfaction, looking back at all the good things they’ve accomplished. There’s a sense of having lived life well for the most part.’’


By contrast, 30-somethings with young children tended to be stressed, sleep-deprived and  financially insecure.

"There’s a paradox here. There’s a societal and cultural stereotype that parents with young children feel this sense of joy. The birth of a child is an amazing peak moment – a very poignant sense of bliss and joy. But then you have to take it home and it’s crying in the middle of the night and you’re getting up and then you’ve got two other kids who are older and they’re out of sorts and everybody gets sick. It’s a time of low money, low sleep, low time – it’s stressful.’’

Women, who made up almost three out of four survey respondents, were slightly happier than men.

The survey also revealed what makes Kiwis happy. Family topped the list, followed by friends, parenthood, work, pleasurable activities and pets. Responses ranged from "learning about the universe, looking through telescopes" to "asparagus in spring, feijoas in autumn" to "ice cream, knowledge, desire".

Family was also by far the most commonly cited source of meaning in life, followed by meaningful work, caring for others, parenthood and making a difference.


The survey asked readers what makes them happy. Here are some of their responses:

"Being free to live my life and do what ever I want without people judging me."

"Cuddling the cats."

"Seeing a good movie, learning about the universe, looking through telescopes, finding new love."

"Sunny days, my little house high on a hill, the views, my garden, good wine & good food."

"Having people be proud of me."

"Being independent and not being organised all the time."

"Ministock racing and Playstation 3."

"Ice cream, knowledge, desire."

"Knowing that there’s always someone out there who’s worse off than me makes me grateful for my lot."

"Hugs, my children and grandchild – even just a text or phone call, knowing I have reversed the bad relationship with my parents and having them acknowledge something I have achieved."

"Someone else bringing me a cup of tea."

"The curiosity and wonder of children."

"Making someone smile."

"Good food, good conversation, great sex."

"Making mistakes and laughing about them."

"Seeing happy dogs on the bike ride to work, salted almonds, a nice garden, jokes, a compliment on my work, a latte at just the right temperature, a new book by a favourite author, fresh ironed sheets, a nice concert on the radio."

"Getting a parcel in the mail."

"When my children thank me for a yummy dinner or cake, or for helping them with schoolwork and it helped them pass a test."

"Lying in bed listening to rain on the roof. Watching plantings taking shape."

"Not searching for meaning to my life."

"Asparagus in spring, feijoas in autumn; the Phoenix winning; Tuatara APA; Sunday baguette from Le Moulin; an empty beach; digging your own spuds; the West Coast highway; a string of green lights; justice finally being done."

"Being thrilled by the daily advances in science and technology and regretting that I won’t live long enough to see it all happen."

"New experiences enjoyed with close friends. Being noticed and sought out by new people. Good opera. Sex. Food."

"Cycling past stationary cars."

"Kindness both given and received."

"Knowing my nephew will walk after his accident, a clean bathroom, clean sheets smelling of sunshine from the clothes line, finishing the crossword, listening to Andrea Bocelli."

Your Weekend