July 10, 2006 — -- It's easy to name the things that make you happy, but measuring the emotion itself is more difficult.
Still, the official study of happiness as a science is booming, and research projects, books, and even college courses are dedicated to it. The most popular course at Harvard last semester was positive psychology, a class that teaches students about happiness.
According to a Pew Research Center survey, only 34 percent of U.S. adults say they're very happy. The survey found that income and status were not important indicators of happiness and that CEOs were not as happy as the people who worked for them.
Chris Peterson, who works at the Positive Psychology Institute, developed a way to quantify happiness.
He uses what he calls an authentic happiness inventory that rates contentment on a scale of 1 to 5.
Peterson said the average American scored a 3.2.
"You have to have something you're passionate about and also people in your life. … Other people matter," Peterson said. "That's what comes out of the study. Now, not only should we pursue happiness, we feel entitled to it."
The inventory is comprised of 24 multiple-choice questions that allow you to rate how you feel about things like work, success, your purpose in life, and how bored you get on a daily basis.
Peterson said few people scored a 5.
Happiness studies have already yielded some important findings.
For example, more unhappy people are in big cities than in rural areas, and people who have children are no happier than those who don't, although married people are usually happier than single people.
The most important factor in happiness is having friends, the inventory found.
Peterson also said that having friends at work was more important than making a lot of money in determining how happy you were at the office.
"The ones that did took fewer sick days.They liked their jobs better," Peterson said. "Having a best friend at work was more important than salary, status, or whether they had a corner office."