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Want a happy life? Focus on these three essential areas

No matter what you’re striving towards, chances are having a happy life is up there on your list of priorities. But what does it mean to be truly happy? Although opinions differ, many agree that true happiness goes beyond emotional bursts of joy.

Ancient Greek thinker Aristotle put happiness on the highest pedestal, believing it to be the ultimate purpose of human existence. He defined happiness around long-term satisfaction, fulfilment and reaching your full potential. For Buddhists, happiness is about achieving mental peace of mind, a state each of us is able to control for ourselves.

According to Associate Professor Delyse Hutchinson, from Deakin’s School of Psychology, who leads the research that contributes to the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index, there are three factors that significantly contribute towards happiness among Australians:

‘Relationships, personal achievement in life and financial security: our 18 years of research on the Index show these are key components that relate to improved wellbeing for Australian adults,’ Assoc. Prof. Hutchinson explains. ‘At the most basic level, focussing on these three elements in combination is key, alongside the other four indicators: health, community connectedness, personal safety and future security.’

Here’s Assoc. Prof. Hutchinson’s advice on how to optimise these top three areas of your life, dubbed ‘The Golden Triangle of Wellbeing’.

1. Relationships

Having caring and supportive relationships is a vital component of wellbeing. While most of us understand the value of having social and emotional support from friends and family, Assoc. Prof. Hutchinson points out that being resilient within yourself is just as important for relationship happiness.

She recommends building up your resilience so you’re able to see the positive side when things go wrong, whether that’s with partners, friends, family-members or work colleagues. That way you can ensure your relationships are always growing in a positive direction and creating happiness for you.

2. Personal achievement

Working towards a goal gives you a sense of purpose and achievement in life, which leads to satisfaction and happiness. Assoc. Prof. Hutchinson recommends ensuring you’re making time and space to do something that gives your life meaning.

It might be succeeding at a job you love, taking care of a family member, playing on the local footy team, or learning a new skill.

3. Financial security

This doesn’t mean you need to have large sums of money to be happy. Financial security is all about having enough money to live and enjoy life.

‘Our research shows that life satisfaction increases in-line with household income up to approximately $100,000 per annum (before tax),’ Assoc. Prof. Hutchinson explains. ‘Thereafter we find relatively small shifts in wellbeing as income rises. Those on a lower income tend to report higher wellbeing levels if they feel in control of spending.’

If you’re in need of an income boost, getting promoted at work is a way forward. But taking simple steps like making a budget to get on top of your finances will increase your feeling of control, and therefore your happiness.

'Relationships, personal achievement in life and financial security: our 18 years of research on the Index show these are key components that relate to improved wellbeing for Australian adults.'

Assoc. Prof. Delyse Hutchinson,
School of Psychology, Deakin University

Other happiness-boosters

Although relationships, personal achievement and financial security have proven to contribute most towards happiness, The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index also includes four other areas: health, community connectedness, personal safety and future security.


‘When health is negatively impacted our results show that wellbeing levels can decrease markedly,’ Assoc. Prof. Hutchinson explains. ‘Many factors can impact health, and while not all of these are in our control, having a healthy diet and getting regular exercise can make a difference.’

She also points to the value of a good night’s sleep: ‘Almost one in three of us sleep six hours or less per night, and this is associated with lower wellbeing, no matter our age. But those who turn out the lights just one hour earlier, and achieve seven hours sleep, report higher wellbeing.’

Community connectedness

Volunteering for something you feel passionate about can connect you into your community, and may also help with other wellbeing indicators such as personal relationships and finding a sense of purpose,’ Assoc. Prof. Hutchinson explains.

Personal safety and future security

‘Feeling safe and secure in one’s environment is also important for wellbeing. This extends to how secure people feel about their future, and may relate to life factors such as one’s health, relationships, finances and living arrangements,’ Assoc. Prof. Hutchinson explains.

Thinking ahead and planning a set of challenges you hope to achieve will help you feel more prepared and confident about facing the future, she says.

‘And don’t forget to enjoy the everyday moments of joy and meaning in life, simple as they may be – they are the building blocks of happiness,’ Assoc. Prof. Hutchinson concludes.

Think study might help give you that happy sense of personal achievement? Browse Deakin courses by interest area to find your next challenge.  

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Assoc. Prof. Delyse Hutchinson
Assoc. Prof. Delyse Hutchinson

Associate Professor, School of Psychology, Deakin University

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