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Key to Happiness Lies in Choices You Make

Study Shows People Who Make Family a Priority Are Happier Than Those Seeking Material Success

By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Oct. 4, 2010 -- A new study suggests the key to long-term happiness may lie not only in your genes, but also in the choices you make in life.

Researchers say the findings contradict the popular notion that life satisfaction is largely determined by a person's genes, marital status, or personality.

Instead, researchers found choices relating to one's partner, the balance between work and leisure time, participation in social activities, and healthy lifestyle are key factors in determining life satisfaction.

"Life goals and choices have as much or more impact on life satisfaction than variables routinely described as important in previous research, including extroversion and being married or partnered," write researcher Bruce Headey of Melbourne University, in Australia, and colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For example, researchers found placing a high priority on family and altruistic goals, church attendance, participation in social events, and regular exercise were all equally or more important than being extroverted in affecting happiness.

The findings are based on data collected from a 25-year study of German households that included annual surveys of more than 60,000 participants from 1984 to 2008.

Overall, the study showed people who prioritize family goals are happier than those who prioritize career and material success.

Although previous research has suggested being in a relationship is a key factor in determining life satisfaction, researchers found other lifestyle choices also played a major role.

"For both men and women, doing fewer paid hours of work than they want apparently has close to the same impact on life satisfaction as not being in a relationship," write the researchers. "For women, being obese actually reduces life satisfaction more than not having a partner."

In addition, the study showed there was no association between partner similarity and life satisfaction.

SOURCES: Headey, B. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Oct. 4, 2010 online early edition. News release, National Academy of Sciences.

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