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What Makes People Happy?

Is a thriving economy the key to what makes people happy? If that was true, then why are so many of the economically poor people in Costa Rica so darn happy? In fact, why are some folks in the US happy despite their financial challenges? To learn the secret to what really makes people happy; I conducted interviews and reviewed the latest scientific evidence. What follows are the secrets to happiness based on these discoveries.

First, I’ll share a few things I learned from the interviews conducted. Next I’ll cover the studies and finally I’m going to give you a chance to participate by sharing with us a story about yourself or of someone you know that’s happy despite any disadvantages. The disadvantages might be financial, physical or environmental. Physical may be a person who has a long term illness or physical disability. Environmental may be someone temporarily stuck in an undesirable location or job. I discovered happy people with all manner of disadvantages, but I’m sure you too know great stories too. Please share.

Three interviews on happiness:

Note: the stories are true, but I’ve changed names to protect privacy.

What makes Maria happy?

Maria is 35 years old and a Tica. Tico is the name Costa Rican natives affectionately gave themselves a long time ago. If you’re a guy, you’re a Tico and gals are Ticas.  Translated the term basically means Costa Rican, but to Ticos, the term is probably a shortened version of Hermanitico (Little Brother). The name Tico symbolizes much more to Costa Ricans than a simple synonym or shortened version of little brother. It symbolizes a way of life, a way of life that ranks Costa Rica among the happiest nations in the world.


I asked Maria to explain why it seems that the people of Costa Rica are so happy. She explained that the national saying “Pura Vida” (pure life) symbolizes a culture basically free of wars, free from armed forces, caring for the environment, good education, and good health care. “That is the Tico way she explained.”

“We may not be a rich people like Americans, but we enjoy our life. We care deeply for our families, they are very important to us. Also, we don’t try to hurry through life.” She laughed, “It frustrates our gringo friends sometimes, but what’s the hurry? You just enjoy life and have fun with your friends and family.”

Following my conversation with Maria, I observed closely the Tico pace and it is indeed much slower and more relaxed. While passing by the Plaza de la Cultura in San Jose, I observed Ticos sitting on benches. They were not talking on cell phones, not playing video games and not reading books. In some instances they weren’t even conversing. They were simply sitting there and enjoying the day. I was impressed.

I was vacationing with a friend who quipped, “How can they do that? I mean just sit there like that.”

“Pura vida,” I answered.

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What makes George happy?

Jim, a friend of mine shared a story about George, a good friend of his. Jim said that George was one of the happiest people he had ever met and had more friends than anyone he knew. Jim said, “He always was in a good mood and smiling. So one day I asked George how he managed to stay happy.”

George told Jim, “It’s simple. Every morning when I wake up the first thing I ask myself is do I want to be happy or unhappy today. So I choose to be happy. I don’t know, but I think it works because when I ask that question I’m reminding myself that it is my choice to make.”

George also told Jim that he believed making the decision to be happy helped him to actually live life rather than fight his way through it.

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What makes Jill Happy?

Jill’s life is far from perfect. Her husband is a serious womanizer and she has problems with her legs as a result of years of standing on concrete when she worked as a grocery checker. Today she works from home working as a bookkeeper for two small companies. For one of these companies she also helps prepare bids and operates as a phone answering service. Needless to say she is very busy.

I’ve known Jill for years and consider her one of my best friends. I’ve always admired her for her ability to balance so many tasks. She not only helps in the operation of the two businesses, but also keeps a spotlessly clean uncluttered home.  However, she always has plenty of time for her friends and family.

Despite her busy life and the problems it holds for her, Jill is always happy. Hers is a tranquil happiness coming from deep within her. One day over a cup of coffee I asked her how she could be such a happy person with all the work she has to do and the problems she has with her husband.

She told me that her happiness was not dependent on the actions or words of anyone outside of herself. She went on to explain that in her opinion we all have our weaknesses to deal with. “Don’s (Jill’s husbands) weakness is that he goes out and drinks too much, meets a woman and ends up in her bed. That’s his problem, not mine,” she said. “I don’t like it,” but I refuse to give his actions power over my life.” She smiled broadly, “Besides, he’s a good person in every other way and he always comes home.”

I shook my head in disbelief realizing how difficult if not impossible it would be for me to adopt that attitude under the same circumstance. I then asked her how she manages to have time enough for her friends given her busy schedule and keep such a neat clean home.

“Having things around me neat and clean is a part of what makes me happy. I’ve always been that way.” As for having time for my friends, I think it has to do with the way I organize. I get rid of everything I don’t need, I take care of important things first and I always put things in their right place after using them.” She laughed, “I’m so used to putting things away that it sometimes gets me into trouble. The other day I was working at my desk on an invoice and the home phone rang. When I got back to my desk, the invoice was gone. I looked everywhere for it. I finally found it in the file where it belongs. Evidently I filed it without even realizing what I was doing.”

So you’re saying that the secret to your happiness is ignoring what Don does and keeping a clean house.

I don’t think much about what makes me happy, I just live my life in ways that keep me feeling good. I help my friends and family whenever I can, but I know I can’t live their lives for them. That’s their job. Another thing, whatever I do, I try to do it well. If I didn’t do that I would be miserable. I don’t think everyone’s that way, but I am. So, that’s what I do.

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What makes people happy according to the latest scientific studies?

Scientists in the field of psychology and neuroscience are working diligently to find the secret to happiness. Neuroscientists are studying the pleasure centers in our brains. Psychologists are taking polls of people trying to determine what makes them happy. The following characteristics are what make people happy.

The happiest people

  • surround themselves with family and friends.
  • are not materialistic.
  • work toward personal growth.
  • do not allow others to judge them.
  • have intimate relationships.
  • fully engage themselves in their activities to where time disappears.
  • give their best effort at whatever they do.
  • are grateful for what they have.
  • have fun.

In conclusion we have learned that what makes people happy is no great mystery. It comes from within a person based on his or her thoughts and actions based on those thoughts. According to the Dalai Lama part of the key to happiness is to live a compassionate life free from anger, jealousy and fear. Notice that these negative emotions come from within each of us. Happiness is also not contingent on having things.  I think George Carlin says it best when he says, “Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over your body.”

Here are a couple of my favorite quotes.

“For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Mahatma Gandhi

Now it’s your turn. Send your stories to us and we will publish them here at SpaFromScratch. We will send you a notice and a link once your story is published. Happiness is a contagious condition well worth spreading. We look forward to hearing from you. If you are writing about someone other than yourself, be sure and ask them what it is that makes them a happy person.

Click here to send your story.

Now go have fun and relax