Surprised it’s not money, love, or success?
The number one predictor of happiness isn’t money, success, beauty, fame, or sex (see: Lindsay Lohan). No, the number one predictor of happiness is less glamorous but decidedly more intrinsic to the human spirit: autonomy. The feeling that you have control over your destiny, that the decisions you make not only affect your life but define it.
A growing body of research indicates that rather than study total happiness, we need to consider emotional well-being daily. These within-person fluctuations in emotional well-being may be understood in terms of the degree to which three basic needs—autonomy, competence, and relatedness—are satisfied in daily activity. Meaning, while your happiness will indeed fluctuate, satisfying your need for autonomy today will help boost your overall emotional well-being.
One of the oft-reported challenges facing the boomerang millennial generation—those who move back in with their parents after college—is a lack of autonomy. But actually ask the millenials how they feel, and 45% of millenials perceive themselves happier than other generations. Perhaps this is because the millennial perception of autonomy differs from that of their parents: that choosing to avoid soul-sucking careers just for a paycheck puts them in control; that choosing to live at home allows them the freedom to pursue artistic and altruistic occupations they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford.
More so than any other generation, millenials have been taught that they can do anything—and they’ve taken it to heart, boomers note with chagrin. Over half of millenials report wanting to be self-employed. It is that sense that they can do anything has led to one of the happiest generations in recent history, because they see their actions as choices, the outcome being that they are in control.
It’s About Defining Your Own Life
Think back to your first apartment, your first pet, or your first job. You probably recall it with fondness, even if the actual studio-with-mold, iguana, or burger-slinging-gig was miserable. The reason? It gave you a sense of freedom, a sense of control, and a sense that you were making your life what you wanted it to be. Have you made any choices or decisions today that affirm your autonomy?