True happiness is complicated. Family and relationship issues can impact happiness, as can work issues, health concerns, money problems, spiritual life and even the ability to spend time doing what one likes and enjoys. Even constantly watching news coverage of natural disasters and thwarted terrorist attacks can impact one's happiness. And, with all that in mind, it is probably not surprising that the Harris Poll Happiness Index has edged downward this year from 35 percent of Americans who said they were very happy in both 2008 and 2009 to 33% who say so this year.

These are some of the findings of a Harris Poll survey of 2,755 U.S. adults surveyed online between April 12 and 19, 2010 by Harris Interactive.

Happiness among different groups

There are many things which impact one's happiness including age, gender and income:

  • Women are more likely to be happy than men are (35% vs. 32%) and married women are more likely to be happy than women who are single (39% vs. 30%);
  • The older one is, the more likely they are to be happy. Those between 18 and 24 years old have a Happiness Index score of 26% while those 25-29 are at 30% and 30-39 year-olds are at 27%. This continues to rise and those 65 and older have a Happiness Index score of 44%, one of the highest of all demographic groups;
  • Maybe money can buy happiness? Those with a household income of less than $35,000 a year have a score of 28% compared to 38% for those with a household income of $75,000 or more a year;
  • In 2008, African-Americans had a Happiness Index score of 35% which rose to 41% last year and has stayed high at 40%. Hispanics also saw an increase over the past three years and are currently at 39%, while Whites dropped from 35% last year to 32% this year.

Many of the statements which create the index have stayed the same over the past year in terms of how Americans feel. For example, four in five Americans (80%) say, at this time, they are generally happy with their life compared to 81% who said this last year. One that has shown a larger shift than the rest is political in nature. In 2008, almost three-quarters of U.S. adults (73%) felt their voice was not heard in national decisions that affect them. Last year this dropped to 67%. Perhaps due to the recent health care battles and other political disputes in Washington and in state capitals across the nation, this number has gone back up this year to 72%.

Talking and Happiness
What one speaks about and how often they do so can also impact how happy they are. Seven in ten Americans (71%) say, in the past week, they often discussed the weather, while 59% spoke often about the economy, 56% discussed TV shows and/or movies, and half (51%) discussed politics. Additionally, just under half say they often discussed health care reform (47%) while two in five talked about sports (42%), education (40%), and religion (38%). Just under one-quarter (23%) of Americans say they spoke about celebrity/ entertainment gossip and 14% spoke about fashion.

There is an interesting correlation between how often people spoke about these ten topics--specifically the lighter subject matters versus the more serious ones--and how happy they are. It may seem that talking about TV shows, movies and celebrity gossip rather than politics or religion would make one happier, but the reverse is actually the case. Among serious talkers, that is those who talk about politics, the economy, religion, health care reform and education often, 39% are very happy. Among lighter talkers, or those who talk about TV shows and/or movies, weather, celebrity/entertainment gossip, sports and fashion often, 32% are very happy. Those who talk about ALL ten of these topics very or somewhat often have a Happiness Index score of 26% while those who talk about NONE of them very or somewhat often have a score of 22%.

So what?
Happiness matters and being truly happy impacts almost everything around one's life. It also helps insulate people when bad things happen. A happy person is more likely to look at the bad that occurs and say sure, that isn't good, but these other things are going well. They make lemonade when handed lemons. But, only 33% of Americans are currently very happy. It is likely that the non-happy two-thirds of adults in the country are fueling the angst and anger seen across the country. Maybe the happy Americans should share their secret to staying happy.

TABLE 1
                            HAPPINESS INDEX
  The Harris Interactive Happiness Index is calculated by taking an
  average (mean) of those who strongly agree with statements 1-4 and
  7 and strongly disagree with statements 5,6,8,9 (see Table 2)

  Base:  All adults

                                     2008   2009   2010
                                     ----   ----   ----
  All Adults                           35     35     33
  ----------                          ---    ---    ---
  Gender
  ------
       Men                             33     34     32
       ---                            ---    ---    ---
       Women                           36     36     35
       -----                          ---    ---    ---
  Gender/Marital status
  ---------------------
       Single women                    34     34     30
       ------------                   ---    ---    ---
       Married Women                   39     38     39
       -------------                  ---    ---    ---
  Race/Ethnicity
  --------------
       White                           35     35     32
       -----                          ---    ---    ---
       African-American                35     41     40
       ----------------               ---    ---    ---
       Hispanic                        32     36     39
       --------                       ---    ---    ---
  Income
  ------
                   $34,999 or less     32     31     28
                   ---------------    ---    ---    ---
                 $35,000 - $49,999     33     34     34
                 -----------------    ---    ---    ---
                 $50,000 - $74,999     36     39     34
                 -----------------    ---    ---    ---
                          $75,000+     38     36     38
                          --------    ---    ---    ---
  Age
  ---
       18-24                           29     32     26
       -----                          ---    ---    ---
       25-29                           31     31     30
       -----                          ---    ---    ---
       30-39                           29     31     27
       -----                          ---    ---    ---
       40-49                           33     32     31
       -----                          ---    ---    ---
       50-64                           36     37     37
       -----                          ---    ---    ---
       65+                             47     45     44
       ---                            ---    ---    ---
  Disabilities
  ------------
       People with disabilities        36     33     34
       ------------------------       ---    ---    ---
       People without disabilities     35     36     33
       ---------------------------    ---    ---    ---
  Political Party
  ---------------
       Republican                      39     37     34
       ----------                     ---    ---    ---
       Democrat                        33     36     34
       --------                       ---    ---    ---
       Independent                     34     33     33
       -----------                    ---    ---    ---
  Education
  ---------
       High school or less             35     33     31
       -------------------            ---    ---    ---
       Some college                    35     36     35
       ------------                   ---    ---    ---
       College graduate                34     36     34
       ----------------               ---    ---    ---
       Post graduate                   36     39     36
       -------------                  ---    ---    ---


                                        TABLE 2
                              HAPPINESS INDEX STATEMENTS
           "Please indicate whether you agree or disagree with the following
                                     statements."

  Base:  All adults

                 AGREE Strongly Somewhat DISAGREE  Somewhat Strongly  Not
                 ----- -------- -------- --------  -------- --------  ---
                     (NET)  agree   agree  (NET)   disagree disagree sure
                     -----  -----   -----  -----   -------- -------- ----
  I have
   positive
   relationships
   with my
   family
   members       %       92      64     28       6        3        2     3
  -------------- ---    ---     ---    ---     ---      ---      ---   ---
  My
   relationships
   with
   friends
   bring me
   happiness     %       91      59     32       6        4        1     3
  -------------- ---    ---     ---    ---     ---      ---      ---   ---
  At this
   time, I'm
   generally
   happy with
   my life       %       80      40     39      18       14        4     3
  -----------    ---    ---     ---    ---     ---      ---      ---   ---
  My
   spiritual
   beliefs
   are a
   positive
   guiding
   force to
   me            %       73      44     29      21       10       12     6
  ----------     ---    ---     ---    ---     ---      ---      ---   ---
  I feel my
   voice is
   not heard
   in
   national
   decisions
   that
   affect me     %       72      38     33      22       15        7     6
  ----------     ---    ---     ---    ---     ---      ---      ---   ---
  I
   frequently
   worry
   about my
   financial
   situation     %       66      29     37      32       21       10     2
  -----------    ---    ---     ---    ---     ---      ---      ---   ---
  I rarely
   worry
   about my
   health        %       52      17     36      46       31       15     2
  ---------      ---    ---     ---    ---     ---      ---      ---   ---
  My work is
   frustrating   %       38      13     25      51       22       29    11
  ------------   ---    ---     ---    ---     ---      ---      ---   ---
  I rarely
   engage in
   hobbies
   and
   pastimes I
   enjoy         %       34      11     24      64       33       31     2
  -----------    ---    ---     ---    ---     ---      ---      ---   ---

  Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100 percent due to rounding



                                TABLE 3
                  HAPPINESS INDEX STATEMENTS - TREND
  "Please indicate whether you agree or disagree with the following
                             statements."
               Percent saying "Strongly/Somewhat Agree"

  Base:  All adults

                                             2008   2009    2010
                                             ----   ----    ----
                                              %      %       %
                                             ---    ---     ---
  I have positive relationships with my
   family members                              92     90      92
  -------------------------------------       ---    ---     ---
  My relationships with friends brings me
   happiness                                   93     91      91
  ---------------------------------------     ---    ---     ---
  At this time I'm generally happy with
   my life                                     83     81      80
  -------------------------------------       ---    ---     ---
  My spiritual beliefs are a positive
   guiding force to me                         77     74      73
  -----------------------------------         ---    ---     ---
  I feel my voice is not heard in
   national decisions that affect me           73     67      72
  ----------------------------------          ---    ---     ---
  I frequently worry about my financial
   situation                                   65     67      66
  -------------------------------------       ---    ---     ---
  I rarely worry about my health               49     54      52
  ------------------------------              ---    ---     ---
  My work is frustrating                       37     36      38
  ----------------------                      ---    ---     ---
  I rarely engage in hobbies and pastimes
   I enjoy                                     32     33      34
  ---------------------------------------     ---    ---     ---




                                     TABLE 4
                        FREQUENCY OF CONVERSATION TOPICS
    "How often in the past week have you spoken about the following topics?"

  Base:  All adults

                                 Very                      Not very  Not at
                         OFTEN  often  Somewhat NOT OFTEN    often     all
                         -----  -----  -------- ---------   -------- ------
                         (NET)           often     (NET)
                         -----           -----     -----
  The weather        %       71     24       47         29        22      6
  -----------        ---    ---    ---      ---        ---       ---    ---
  The economy        %       59     23       36         41        28     13
  -----------        ---    ---    ---      ---        ---       ---    ---
  TV shows and/or
   movies            %       56     15       41         44        32     12
  ---------------    ---    ---    ---      ---        ---       ---    ---
  Politics           %       51     21       30         49        28     21
  --------           ---    ---    ---      ---        ---       ---    ---
  Health care reform %       47     18       29         53        31     22
  ------------------ ---    ---    ---      ---        ---       ---    ---
  Sports             %       42     16       26         58        27     31
  ------             ---    ---    ---      ---        ---       ---    ---
  Education          %       40     14       26         60        32     28
  ---------          ---    ---    ---      ---        ---       ---    ---
  Religion           %       38     15       23         62        30     32
  --------           ---    ---    ---      ---        ---       ---    ---
  Celebrity/
   Entertainment
   gossip            %       23      5       18         77        33     44
  --------------     ---    ---    ---      ---        ---       ---    ---
  Fashion            %       14      2       12         86        28     57
  -------            ---    ---    ---      ---        ---       ---    ---

  Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100 percent due to rounding




                                TABLE 5
           HAPPINESS INDEX - BY AMOUNT/TYPE OF CONVERSATION
  The Harris Interactive Happiness Index is calculated by taking an
  average (mean) of those who strongly agree with statements 1-4 and
     7 and strongly disagree with statements 5,6,8,9 (see Table 2)

  Base:  All adults

                                                    2010
                                                    ----
  All Adults                                          33
  ----------                                         ---


  Talkers (talk very or somewhat often about
   all 10 topics)                                     26
  ------------------------------------------         ---
  "Light" talkers (talk very or somewhat often
   about TV shows/movies, weather, celebrity/
   entertainment gossip, sports and fashion)          32
  --------------------------------------------       ---
  "Serious" talkers (talk very or somewhat
   often about politics, the economy, health
   care reform, education and religion)               39
  ------------------------------------------         ---
  The Silent types (talk not very often or not
   at all about all 10 topics)                        22
  --------------------------------------------       ---