Discovering What Makes You Happy And Why

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated April 17, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
You can find contentment and live your best life

Happiness is an emotion most of us try to foster in our lives. We may know that certain actions, achievements, or interactions will help us feel peaceful, joyful, or satisfied. But sometimes happiness can be elusive, particularly when we’re unsure what exactly brings it on. If you’re struggling to experience happiness as often as you’d like, identifying possible sources of this emotion can be the first step toward nurturing it in your life. Below, we’re discussing a variety of activities, relationships, and experiences that, according to research, can lead to happiness in your life.  

Common sources of happiness

Given our vast differences, it can be hard to create a list of factors that may produce happiness. That said, there are certain endeavors, relationships, and situations that have proven links to increased feelings of well-being, satisfaction, pleasure, and enjoyment. Here are some of the most common sources of happiness.


Studies show that enjoyable activities undertaken in our free time can reduce stress and improve mental and physical health. Most people have a hobby they enjoy, whether it's golf, running, painting, pottery, singing, or reading. These pastimes can take your mind off the challenges you’re experiencing, provide a creative outlet, and lead to a more robust social life. It’s important to note that not all hobbies have to be productive, and you don’t have to be good at a hobby for it to bring you happiness.

Exercise can produce numerous physical and mental health benefits that may increase happiness. Physical activity has been shown to reduce stress, improve mood, and decrease symptoms of depression. Exercise also allows you to set and accomplish goals, which can lead to positive feelings related to achievement and gratification.  


Additionally, research suggests that creative pursuits can have a positive effect on an individual’s mental health. Outlets such as writing, painting, and making music can allow a person to express feelings of joy, sadness, or anger in an imaginative and engaging way. Artists have many opportunities to illustrate books, create beautiful paintings, and design everything from clothing and fashion items to architecture, business, and website graphics. 

A wide range of hobbies can lead to happiness in your life. Gardening has been linked to feelings of enjoyment, primarily because it allows individuals to spend time outdoors, stay active, and interact with others. Even something as simple as doing a jigsaw puzzle has been shown to have cognitive health benefits that can promote happiness. 

Family and friends

Studies consistently show that social connection is one of the most important factors when it comes to happiness.

Many people find joy in interacting with immediate family and other relatives. Family relationships can be some of the deepest and most supportive bonds you form. According to a survey from the Pew Research Center, 83% of adults in the US find spending time with family rewarding. Connecting with family is a way to experience the feelings of closeness and familiarity often formed by people who have grown up together.

As people grow older, they often create families of their own. Finding a partner whom you can love and trust can produce feelings of contentment. Also, many adults often find that their friends become the primary constituents of their support systems, which is helpful because there is thought to be a strong correlation between friendship and happiness. In fact, researchers in one study discovered that individuals who had a happy friend living nearby were 25% more likely to be happy themselves

If you’d like to strengthen your support network, consider reaching out to friends or family with whom you may have lost touch; or try to get to know casual acquaintances better. You can also take advantage of meetups with groups of people who have similar interests as you. Putting yourself out there in social situations can lead to strong relationships and increased happiness. 


There is a substantial body of evidence linking altruistic acts to improved mental well-being. Helping others can give you a sense of purpose while also making a difference in your community. There are plenty of opportunities to give your time in service of causes that are important to you. Maybe you’d like to help bring in donations at a local food bank or clean up waterways with an environmental non-profit? Have you always wanted to work in a nursing home, mentor young people, or build houses for people in need? Consider using a site like VolunteerMatch or directly contacting an organization near you to find out about volunteer opportunities. 


Self-compassion is thought to have a positive effect on our mental well-being. Self-care—which refers to activities that enrich your life and nourish your body and mind—can help you take time for yourself and tend to your own needs. Self-care can include everything from indulging in a warm bath, or getting a massage, to taking a long walk.  

Practicing self-care can reduce stress, improve physical health, and produce other benefits that may contribute to happiness. Consider developing self-care routines that incorporate several different activities. A nighttime routine may include meditation, journaling, drinking herbal tea, and tending to personal hygiene, while a morning routine may include deep breathing, eating a healthy breakfast, and taking a short walk.  

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
You can find contentment and live your best life


Animals have long brought joy to people’s lives through companionship affection, and loyalty. Research suggests that pets can help improve mental health challenges by providing distractions from potentially harmful symptoms or experiences and helping owners meet others who enjoy animals. Additionally, interacting with a pet can cause the brain to release oxytocin (often called the "love hormone"), which promotes feelings of relaxation, positivity, and trust. Taking care of a pet can also encourage you to be more physically active. 

Many animal shelters allow you to adopt pets at a reduced cost (free, in some cases). If you’re unable to have pets due to financial reasons or housing restrictions, consider volunteering at a local shelter or fostering a pet temporarily as it waits for a permanent home.


We often become so focused on what we want that we forget to appreciate what we already have. Studies show that there is a connection between gratitude and mental wellness. Expressing thanks can help us reframe challenging situations in a more positive light and direct our attention toward those things that are going well in our lives. 

For example, if you’re having a difficult week at work, you may try to focus on the fulfillment that having a job brings you. Or you could remind yourself that you enjoy solving difficult problems—after all, taking on challenges can lead to happiness. Consider keeping a gratitude journal or simply taking time to think about what you’re thankful for each day. 


Part of both figuring out what will make you happy and becoming happy is learning who you are. There is evidence that having a clear sense of self—often referred to as self-concept clarity—is linked to happiness. Some people are unsure of who they are, while others feel obligated to make certain choices and strive for goals that may not align with what they truly want out of life. 

Understanding your strengths, weaknesses, values, and beliefs may help you feel more self-assured and comfortable with who you are. For example, knowing and accepting that you’re the type of person who prefers to stay home and read a book, as opposed to going out, can help you feel more confident declining offers that you aren’t inviting to you. 

If you’ve struggled to develop self-concept clarity, take some time to think about your ambitions, qualities, and morals. Consider the different ways you’re unique as a person. Find out whether there are goals or attributes to which you have committed or pursued that no longer serve you. A solid understanding of who you are can be vital to your ability to create a happy life. 

Fostering happiness with online therapy

Studies show that online therapy can help individuals address challenges that may be affecting their happiness. For example, in one study, participants reported experiencing “significant increases in happiness” and reductions in depressive symptoms following an online therapy program. The study notes that these results were sustained for six months post-treatment. 

If you’re looking to cultivate positivity, joy, and fulfillment in your life, consider getting matched with a licensed therapist online. Using an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can connect with a mental health professional remotely, which can be helpful if depression or a similar challenge makes leaving home difficult. BetterHelp works with thousands of providers—who have a wide range of specialties—so you’ll have a good chance of matching with someone who can help you overcome the specific obstacles that may be in the way of your happiness.


Happiness can be hard to define and even more difficult to produce. But we can often get closer to being happy by identifying facets of life that bring us joy, excitement, satisfaction, and peace of mind. If you’d like to explore the sources of these feelings in your life, consider getting matched with a licensed therapist online. You deserve support and the happiness that can come with mental and emotional wellness.
Find your happiness with professional support
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started