5 Surprising Things Harvard Found About Happiness at Work and in Life

Deep relationships, satisfying careers, and helping others are the three top indicators of happiness.

What makes you happy?

Everyone will answer that question differently, but most people agree that finding happiness is key to leading a fulfilling life.

Let’s focus on the second indicator of happiness: satisfying careers.

You will spend a third of your life at work. If you aren’t happy in the workplace, you’ll spend 33% of your life struggling to survive the day.

Finding happiness at work isn’t as complicated as it sounds. We’ll look at a study Harvard conducted on happiness and see if it helps you refocus and find a work-life solution.

Big ideas

  • Most people prefer to live in the moment.
  • Remembered happiness lasts longer.
  • Happiness is worth waiting for.
  • All cultures have a similar view of happiness.


Why is happiness at work important?

No one can measure happiness, but most people know when they feel it. They get a sense of peace, contentness, joy, or meaning in their lives.

Happiness affects most of your other activities. When you’re happy, you have better focus and creativity in the workplace.

Pie chart: how many hours per week do people spend on work

Your entire body also benefits. A happy person has healthier habits and a stronger immune system. That feeling of relaxation and peace can lead to lower blood pressure and a healthier weight.

When you spend your days feeling depressed about work, you’ll soon find yourself losing focus, gaining weight, and experiencing health issues.


The difference between experienced versus remembered happiness

To understand how you experience happiness, you first need to understand the two types of happiness. According to a study from Harvard, there are two main types of happiness: experienced happiness and remembered happiness.


Experienced happiness

Experienced happiness is the happiness you feel in a moment. That rush of joy you get when you see someone you love. That warmth flowing over you when taking your first sip of coffee in the morning. A surge of excitement when you see a text message pop up from someone you haven’t heard from in a while.

Each of these experiences gives a moment of glee before you return to your regular emotional state. A day later—or even an hour later—you probably won’t be thinking back to that moment.


Remembered happiness

Remembered happiness refers to long-term happiness. These are moments that you think about during a quiet evening and smile to yourself. Your toddler might have frustrated you one morning for writing with markers all over the wall, but a year later you might catch yourself laughing about their antics.

Deciding to focus on experienced happiness or remembered happiness is key to a healthy work-life balance. Here are some work-life balance tips to help you focus on doing what you love instead of doing everything perfectly.


5 results of Harvard’s happiness study

Harvard studied people’s reactions to experienced and remembered happiness and came up with five surprising results.


1. Most people live by carpe diem

Carpe diem, YOLO, live in the moment.

People have used many terms to refer to this idea of focusing on the here and now.

Harvard asked a study group which form of happiness they prefer—experienced or remembered—and nearly 80% of people chose experienced. People know their lives are short, so they want to make the most of every moment.

People would rather choose to eat that extra piece of cake, hug that friend a little longer, and take that trip they always dreamed about taking.


2. Remembered happiness lasts longer

Even though most people chose experienced happiness, everyone agreed that remembered happiness lasts longer. Experienced happiness is fleeting, and hardly anyone thinks back on the feeling later.

Time spent with loved ones, accomplishing dreams, and fulfilling a goal stays with a person for years. Yet, most people would still rather have shorter moments of happiness because they can’t guarantee what they’ll experience tomorrow.


3. Happiness in the short term is worth working for

The study did find an exception to the results. Up until this point, the study was discussing remembered happiness over a lifetime.

Harvard shifted the focus from lifetime remembered happiness to remembered happiness within an hour. For example, would someone be willing to work now if it meant achieving greater happiness in an hour? Or would they rather experience immediate gratification?

In that case, the study group split nearly 50/50 among those who wanted immediate gratification and those who were willing to work for long-term happiness.


4. Happiness is similar across cultures

Harvard didn’t restrict the study to a single culture group—they studied three groups: Americans, Europeans, and Easterners. 

Americans and Europeans both gave similar answers about happiness. But, when Harvard asked Easterners about happiness, 81% chose experienced happiness both over a lifetime and within the next hour as their preferred type of happiness. Harvard attributes this to the Eastern practice of mindfulness and being present in the moment.


5. What people want and what people should pursue isn’t always the same

The most surprising result of the study was the conclusion. While most people knew what brought them happiness, not everyone focused on achieving that happiness.

People who said they preferred experienced happiness still accepted jobs that didn’t bring them joy in the moment but gave them the finances to create memories later.

What brings happiness at work


Find happiness through a healthy work-life balance

What type of happiness would you rather experience?

Happiness at work starts with a healthy work-life balance. You want to be able to enjoy your job and enjoy your life. Sometimes you might need to put off your experienced happiness so that you can have longer-lasting remembered happiness.

Ready to achieve happiness at work for yourself? Vector Marketing offers a flexible work-from-home opportunity. Let’s talk.