In 2021, The Wall Street Journal announced a polling partnership with the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago “to conduct surveys on cultural and social issues of importance.” The latest data to come out of that collaboration was gathered in March, and it offers some fascinating insight into how the happiest people in the United States live. 

Participants were asked about their feelings on issues like the economy and the importance of a college education, as well their levels of personal satisfaction. Of the 1,019 adults polled, 56% rated themselves “pretty happy,” while a much smaller group, just 12%, considered themselves “very happy.” 

Having a majority of Americans consider themselves “pretty happy” is great news, especially during turbulent times: the tail-end of a devastating pandemic, increased inflation, and what can often feel like a growing ideological divide. But what is it that these rarer respondents have in common? The answer isn’t vast wealth and perfect health. 

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A large majority of the 12% value strong relationships, WSJ reported in an April article elaborating on the poll’s data. Around 67% of them said that marriage is important to them, whether or not they were currently married themselves, according to the outlet, a figure over 20 percentage points higher than the overall response. 

“We’re living on Social Security and a couple of small pensions. We live from month to month on that,” 76-year-old Mary Ann DePasquale from Keedysville, Maryland, a participant who rated herself “very happy,” told the publication. “But we don’t want for anything.”

Another interesting insight from the data: Neither Republicans nor Democrats claimed a “disproportionate share of the very happy.”

While many of the 12% said in interviews that they believed their happy states of mind could be partially attributed to the choices they make, they also acknowledged that some of it is innate. And that theory holds weight. Research has identified a process known as “hedonic adaptation,” the idea that people return to a personal basepoint of happiness following both good and bad events. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take some control over our general levels of contentment — there are several science-backed ways to increase your personal happiness. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of them is by building and maintaining friendships: According to a study cited by author Eric Barker in his book Plays Well with Others: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Relationships Is (Mostly) Wrong, people with five or more friends with whom they could discuss hardships were 60% happier than those with fewer than that number of confidants. 


Another great way to feel good? Being kind. Per the Mayo Clinic, “Kindness has been shown to increase self-esteem, empathy and compassion, and improve mood. It can decrease blood pressure and cortisol, a stress hormone, which directly impacts stress levels.”

Other methods of boosting your mood include practicing gratitude, establishing exercise routines, and setting achievable goals. Click here to read them all