Here's what real happiness is, and isn't

What makes us happy?

Age has no effect on it. Sex is not a determining factor. Race and financial status don't matter much, either.


So why are some people basically happy, although they seem to have every strike against them, while others who seem to enjoy every advantage are downright miserable?

In a recent Psychology Today article, David G. Myers, Ph.D., wrote, "If I wanted to predict whether you feel happy and find life satisfying, there are some things that, surprisingly, it would not help me to know.


"Tell me your age and you've given me no clue," he wrote. "We can forget about midlife crises, empty nest syndrome and despondent old age. . . . Rates of depression, suicide and divorce show no increase during the mythical midlife crisis years."

Our sex doesn't seem to affect our ability to be happy, either, added Dr. Myers, author of "The Pursuit of Happiness" (Avon Books; $10), although troubled men are more likely to become alcoholic and unhappy women to become depressed.

And the National Institute of Mental Health's recent study of psychiatric disorders in America revealed that rates of alcoholism and depression are roughly equal among blacks and whites. Race doesn't determine potential for happiness.

Perhaps most surprising of all is Dr. Myers' assertion that "Rich people -- even those surveyed among Forbes' 100 wealthiest Americans -- are only slightly happier than working-class folks."

So if it isn't youth or maturity, being male or female, or belonging to a particular race or financial stratum that makes us happy, what is it?

The happiest working women -- and men -- I know seem to have these characteristics in common:

They live in the present. They really do strive to live each day as though it is their first -- and their last.

They savor the small pleasures of life -- early morning sunlight, a moment of closeness with a friend, a child's smile, the sight of a loved one's face after a busy work day, a glorious piece of music, a starry sky.


They like themselves. They may not always like what they say or do, but they like who they are.

They understand that they are the only ones in charge of their careers, their lives.

They have clear priorities and don't waste time second-guessing them -- or themselves. They're in control of how they spend their time.

They have close relationships. They don't flit from one superficial relationship to the next, but are willing to put in the hard work it takes to maintain relationships built on trust, openness and honesty.

They're able to move on, on the other hand, if a relationship is destructive, hurtful or self-defeating. They are not willing victims.

They like and are challenged by their work -- most of the time, at least. Like all of us, they have their bad days, but they do not stay for years in jobs that are unrewarding, unstimulating, unsatisfying or demeaning in any way.


They enjoy activities that have nothing to do with their work and are not sedentary. People who work and watch television, work and watch television, work and watch television, may feel an absence of pain -- or anything else, for that matter -- but they're not happy, say the experts; they're anesthetized.

Happy people have fantasies and daydreams -- happy images and pictures of what their futures may hold.

Most happy people seem to have some kind of faith in a power greater than themselves. They may call this power God, nature, karma, their higher power, or any of a dozen other names, but most happy people I know believe in something larger than themselves.

Finally, happy people surround themselves with others who are also optimistic and positive. It's true that likes attract, plus they 00 seem to know instinctively that nothing will drag them down faster than the company of pessimists.