What Makes People Happy?

Spring is here!  The flowers are blooming, the weather is getting better… mostly, and there appears to be a return to “normalcy” on the horizon.  

We thought now would be a great opportunity to answer a big question, what makes people happy?  Perhaps naively, we set out to do something seemingly simple – we’d construct a survey that would help us identify the magic formula for happiness.  As soon as we sat down to create the survey, we quickly realized the enormity of this challenge.

We started by trying to understand happiness in a couple of simple ways.  How happy are people?  And more specifically, how happy are they with various factors that touch their lives.  In order to provide structure, we tried to think about this by understanding happiness with the things that are closest to people such as their relationships with their partners and families, and then moving further and further away to their community, their education, their government, etc.

The next area that we wanted to understand about happiness was how does access or influence impact how happy, or unhappy, a person is.

We’re going to be diving into this huge issue in pieces. If you have anything you’re curious about, get in touch and we’ll include it as we work on the next wave.

Happiness is a sense of well-being, joy, or contentment

Happiness is a state, not a trait; in other words, it isn’t a long-lasting, permanent feature or personality trait, but a more fleeting, changeable state.

Echo Market Research asked 2,208 US consumers to share how happy they were and the factors that drive their happiness. Today, almost 4 out of 10 American people feel happy, driven mainly by psychological needs such as interactions with family and friends. This reinforces the importance of human relations in people’s lives, especially during COVID.

What influences happiness?

We found that children, friends, and family are factors that people believe have a direct impact on mood. They are strongly related to happiness levels (Psychological needs mean 2,04).

Physiological needs are important (Mean 0.95); nevertheless, they are not strongly related with happiness. Things like cars and housing, job status and career impact happiness as secondary factors.

The Government, education system, and the economy are factors Americans do not feel have an influence over happiness. Therefore, they do not have as much influence on joy.

Additionally, factors like faith impact happiness. If people feel faith/religion/spirituality have a positive impact on them, they are happier than people who do not believe in faith.

Happier people are more optimistic about the future.

Most people are optimistic about things like personal financial outlook (82%), housing satisfaction (80%), the economy (67%), and income (65%). People’s present material needs are related to lower levels of happiness. Nonetheless, people expect those to improve in the future. Moreover, 60% of people are optimistic about their relationship with their partner.

Our study found income and household finances were not pivotal drivers of happiness. However, 60% of them agreed that if those improved, they may have an impact on overall happiness.

Then, what is the ideal income to be happy? 

Psychologists from Purdue University and the University of Virginia concluded that the ideal income for individuals is $95,000 a year for life satisfaction and $60,000 to $75,000 a year for emotional well-being. Once that threshold was reached, further increases in income were actually associated with reduced happiness.

Relationships and social interactions are core drivers to reported happiness for both genders.

Data from our survey showed in the U.S. men rate themselves significantly happier than women.

Nevertheless, females are driven mostly by emotion, and relationships have the highest score to reported happiness. Consequently, women feel happier with their relationships and believe they have greater influence over them and the connections they have with others.

Males are also driven by relations and tend to rate physiological needs such as housing, current job, healthcare access, and finances higher.  

Both males and females are generally unhappy with the overall economy, current salary, and education opportunities.

What explains the gender gap?

Men feel far more empowered and able to influence the various elements of their lives. Additionally, males are expecting these to improve in the future.

Women feel they have less influence over most things, except in relationships with children. Additionally, they are more optimistic about psychological factors like relationships and work/life balance.  

However, males are overall more optimistic as they feel they have more influence on different aspects that impact their happiness.


To sum up, happiness and influence over things get better and are strongly related. Perhaps, happiness comes from a sense of empowerment and ability to control their own situation and destiny. However, males’ and females’ influence on different factors generate a gender gap. The good news is that women feel more influence over things they have had control of by nature and they are optimistic to keep that control in the future. Also, they are optimistic to get more influence in areas they feel had less influence over. Research shows this empowerment will make women happier.  

Now that we understand what drives happiness, diving into factors different than gender will create a different relationship between happiness and influence. As we know happiness should not be taken for granted, will helping people feel empowered create a happier society? Could we create a world where everyone feels they have the same influence over their lives? We hope so.

If you would like more information on this or our company, you can follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter. You can also reach out to us via email at hello@echo-mr.com.