5 Basic Factors for Happiness, According to Carl Jung.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day — or List Day, or Quiz Day.
This Wednesday: 5 basic factors for happiness, according to Carl Jung.

One of my chief intellectual interests, along with happiness, is a subject that I call “symbols beyond words.” And on that subject, no one is more fascinating than Jung.

I recently read the very interesting collection, C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters. In 1960, Jung was interviewed by journalist Gordon Young, who asked, “What do you consider to be more or less basic factors making for happiness in the human mind?” Jung answered:

“1. Good physical and mental health.
2. Good personal and intimate relationships, such as those of marriage, the family, and friendships.
3. The faculty for perceiving beauty in art and nature.
4. Reasonable standards of living and satisfactory work.
5. A philosophic or religious point of view capable of coping successfully with the vicissitudes of life.”

Jung also added, “All factors which are generally assumed to make for happiness can, under certain circumstances, produce the contrary. No matter how ideal your situation may be, it does not necessarily guarantee happiness.”

I did disagree strongly with Jung on one point — when he said, “The more you deliberately seek happiness the more sure you are not to find it.” I know, Carl Jung vs. Gretchen Rubin! But though many great minds, such as John Stuart Mill, make the same point as Jung, I don’t agree.

I find that the more mindful I am about happiness, the happier I become. Take the five factors Jung outlined above. By deliberately seeking to strengthen those elements of my life, I make myself happier.

What do you think? Do you agree with the five factors? And do you find that mindfully pursuing happiness makes you happier, or less happy?

* I love looking at book jackets, and in particular, looking at many book jackets for the same book. (I get a real kick out of looking at gallery of foreign jackets for The Happiness Project.) This collection of covers for Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina was fascinating.

* The holidays are approaching fast. If you’re giving The Happiness Project, email me at grubin at gretchenrubin dot com, and I’ll send you a personalized, signed bookplate for the recipient. Or one for you! Just be sure to include your mailing address. Feel free to ask for as many as you want, and yes, they’re free.

  • amr

    I’m not always sure if seeking happiness makes me happier, but it makes me notice my happiness more often, and I think that’s always a good thing! But as you so eloquently pointed out in your post, sometimes seeking happiness has a side of sadness too. http://www.gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2008/10/paradoxes-of-ha.html

    I’m feeling, perhaps not sadness, but more a sense of “now what?” because I’m realizing that something I’ve been pursuing – a Ph.D. – really isn’t making me very happy. Elements of it do, but the journey as a whole – I’m not so sure. Last night I was thinking that since I started my own Happiness project this summer, I’ve been questioning my pursuit of this degree quite a bit. Is it helping me be me? I’m still not quite ready to abandon it, but I really want to thank you for inspiring me to do a Happiness project so that I can slow down a little to notice what makes me happy and what doesn’t!

  • Hi Gretchen

    I’ve been following your blog for a long time…it was one of the first ones I started following! We are very similar minded (I love my gold stars, too!). So what do I think about pursuing happiness? Since you asked… I think it’s a little of both. I think you can set yourself up for happiness by doing many of the things you describe on your blog and by consciously working to shift your perspective at times. But I also think that the constant pursuit of happiness sets you up for failure… life is messy and so there will be dark moments as well as light ones. Happiness often sneaks in when you least expect it, not when you’ve pre-ordered it. For me, a lot of happiness has been in understanding that. 🙂


    P.S. I blogged about my recipe for finding joy here: http://liveoutloudwithme.blogspot.com/2010/09/joy.html

  • I’ve been reading a lot of Jung lately and really enjoying it.

    I think there’s a difference between seeking happiness and what you’re doing, since seeking happiness in my mind implies looking for some external thing to make you happy and what you’re doing is more like cultivating happiness, by taking the actions and creating the internal conditions that allow you to be more happy.

    • Debradylan

      Yes, I agree, there is a difference between mindfulness and seeking.

  • There *is*, though, the empty happiness chase that many people have gone on, where pursuing happiness is simply a constant reminder of their own unhappiness. A lot of it depends on how they pursue it — a chase for short term happiness is, in my opinion, ultimately flawed. I call it the Dark Hunger, because I’m melodramatic and like capitalizing random words.

    If you seek happiness through, for instance, doughnuts, then not only will that pursuit leave you unfulfilled, it’ll also make you overweight and in poor health, which will (as Jung points out) lower your opportunity for happiness in the first place. If you seek happiness through exercise, you’re much more likely to end up fulfilling the criteria above, and will hopefully continue out of joy rather than out of need.

    The one choice not only does not satisfy you, it only makes you hungrier in the long term; the other fills and fulfills you.

  • LivewithFlair

    I agree! I was missing 3 and 5 for so long, and I was depressed and out of sorts. Because of my life in God, I can enact finding the beauty and meaning in life everyday. I feel happy after all these years. I think the missing piece was combining 3 and 5. http://www.livewithflair.blogspot.com

  • Viktor Frankl said something similar about the pursuit of happiness:

    For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.

    I tend to agree on the level that, if one’s entire focus is on one’s own state of happiness, most people will inadvertently push it away. It’s like pursuing one’s beloved until they feel trapped or smothered and wind up abhorring your attentions.

    Maybe a better metaphor is the leaf in the hot tub. When I try to scoop it out, the motion of my hand in the water creates a current that pushes it away from me. I have to move very slowly and sideways at it until I’ve scooped up the water around it.

    The real source of my happiness is inside. When I look inside I notice it is already there. When I look outside, I create the conditions of disappointment and unhappiness.

    Clear as mud, no?

  • Heather Whistler

    I think that seeking pleasure and seeking happiness are two different things. Seeking pleasure doesn’t make me happy. But seeking to live a meaningful, fulfilling life by following what I believe is my Higher Power’s plan for me–to help and serve other people–does make me happier.

    I’ve also noticed that when I focus on the positive things in my life, I see and appreciate them more, which makes me happier. When I focus on the negative things, I’m less happy.

    I like Jung’s principles, too. Thanks for sharing!

    I blog about marriage and mental illness at http://heatherwhistler.wordpress.com/

    • kristi

      I was going to comment, but you said it all. I do think if you spend every waking moment think about; am I happy, am I healthy, how do I feel, am I getting respect, and on and on about “I”, you tend to over think. But when acting on behalf of others, a satisfaction happens that is more than momentary happiness.

      • gretchenrubin

        My Second Splendid Truth holds:
        One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy;
        One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.

        Happier people are more altruistic, volunteer more, give away more money,
        and are more likely to pitch in. They are more interested in the problems of
        other people and the problems of the world. One of the consequences of
        happiness is the inclination to turn outward. Helping others makes people
        happier, that is 100% true, but unhappy people are often defensive,
        isolated, and preoccupied with their own problems.

        One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy;
        One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.

        • CB

          Another way of seeing it is how much trust and faith do you have? Happy people seem to trust others, unhappy people are distrustful. And by faith I mean a belief that things work out for the best. Unhappy people tend to see the dark cloud, never the silver lining.

        • While I am with Jung on this one I respect that you see it the other way (and seem quite happy). The fact that two different perspectives can still lead to happiness is consistent with the benefit to be found in aligning with what is: You are happy to pursue and thus you pursue and are happy; I am only happy now that I accept what is, so I accept what is and I am happy. We are both rather devoted to helping others and I do believe (and agree with you about it) that this is a key that crosses the two sides of this particular issue.

          what Jung says about needing a philosophy or spiritual point of view to deal with the difficult things is also important. After all, happiness is a relative concept that requires unhappiness to have any meaning. The ability to navigate vicissitudes, loss and our own inevitable mortality is certainly a profound challenge within the human condition.

          We are in our prime and quite fortunate. I hope we will remain positive and compassionate even if we find ourselves isolated, impoverished, ill or oppressed (as Victor Frankl managed to navigate with astounding and transformative spirit); I hope we can understand that we are all in this together and personal happiness is but a grain in a vast question of collective consciousness, meaning… perhaps even unity across all opinions and emotional states.

          Namaste either way

  • Kiwibok01

    For me, the top 2 are the two most critical factors which affect my happiness – when I am ill I am a MISERY! And when I feel disconnected from the people around me, I start to feel sad and alone – even though I cherish my solitude and am quite introverted, I really need to feel a connection to other beings and sense of belonging in my community. Another thing that really affects my ‘happiness’ is my environment (and perhaps Jung covers this in 3 and 4) – I feel happy when I am surrounded by natural beauty, and when my home is clean, comfortable and clutter free (I am sometimes astounded at how much joy I get from this!!).
    I agree with Sheila O’Shea’s comment about the difference between pursuing happiness and cultivating happiness. Cultivation implies a gentle nurturing, an understanding of oneself and a mindful approach to consistently ensuring that the factors are in place to create a joyous life. My biggest happiness downfall is ‘forgetting’ or perhaps disregarding the things I KNOW I need to do to be happy, and then I wonder why I feel so sad! (I’m getting better at this…). Thanks for this post x

  • I’m sorry Gretchen, I agree with Jung – I think happiness is what happens when you’re focused on something else. But I also think you may be the exception…

    I’m most happy when I’m snowboarding – I don’t have any worries, I forget the planet. All I can think of is the next turn…

  • HeatherY

    I LOVE Jung. I have never seen the inside of his super expensive The Red Book


    … but I think I would LOVE it! I prefer his philosophy to Freud – mostly due to what I believed was the incorrect tying of everything to sex.

    However, I didn’t know that the rest of the psychiatric community had most recently discarded Freud for the same reasons, despite his recanting of those theories later in life.

    I have a new found respect for Freud after listening to Dr. John E. Sarno’s book on CD:


    The book itself is affordable, but the book on CD is rather expensive. As a happy accident, I chose it free when I signed up for audible.com (Amazon’s audio book club). I was going to cancel after the free 30 day trial – but most books are only 1 credit – and you receive one credit a month if you keep the club (approx. $15 per month).

    I am a voracious reader (love both printed and my Kindle), but I find I enjoy listening to certain types of books – especially if they are read by the author.

    Reading the works of Dr. John E. Sarno, MD have helped me tremendously! He actually returned my phone call and I got to speak with him in person once!

    I am COMPLETELY digressing here, so I’ll stop. Everyone else has said what I was thinking about pursuing happiness as opposed to being surprised by happiness while you are otherwise engaged, anyway.

  • JenM

    I’m all for mindfulness, especially being mindful of happiness and things to be thankful for, but I don’t believe pursuing happiness makes one happier. I think of happiness as a way of life rather than a goal to be reached. There’s a quote that says something like: “Happiness isn’t a desitation, but a way of traveling”. We can only live moment to moment and if we’re not happy now, how can we be happy (or happier) in the future, which is always a step ahead of us anyway? This brings to mind another quote “For every minute you are angry, you loose 60 seconds of happiness.”

  • Peninith1

    Well, there’s that serenity prayer thing about the things we can change, and the things we can’t. If our ‘pursuit of happiness’ is all about trying to change things or make things happen that are not within our personal control (like, say, making a certain person love me) then we are in for a lot of despair instead of happiness. If our pursuit of happiness is a pursuit of personal integrity, mindfulness, and working on a goal for the sake of the work and not the goal, then I think we can work for and achieve a level of contentment that sometimes amounts to happiness. I must confess that my happiest times in life have been about the gifts of love that could not have been earned, nor could they have been in anywise successfully sought. It is a constant challenge not to try to hold those times beyond their natural time of staying, nor to fall into perpetual sadness and despair when, through no doing of my own, they depart. What Gretchen seems to be pointing toward is knowing that difference, between the things I can change and those I cannot touch, and focusing my attention and gratitude on what remains inside my circle of influence. Perhaps these are not the great joys of life, but they are the BEARABLENESS and enduring GOODNESS of a life that often, for me, has proved not to give over the long term, the big gifts.

  • Sounds very similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I definitely agree!

  • jenny_o

    I am in agreement with those here who draw a distinction between pursuing happiness and cultivating happiness. I think that, as with any other pursuit of answers to problems, mindful analysis of what leads to happiness and mindful following of the results DOES allow one to feel more happiness.

    As for Jung, it is my opinion that his five factors for basic happiness are truly factors for BLISS, and that we can be lacking one or more and still be able to be relatively happy. So many people in the world lack a number of these factors and yet manage to be happy. We who are lucky enough to have most or all of these should be very happy indeed. But that is just my opinion 🙂

  • Duanelarkins

    This is a great article! It immediately reminded me of this inspirational speech that changed my life! Check it out and let me know what you think!

  • Laura

    Jung is great! You may also want to read (if you haven’t already) Martin Selligman’s work, specifically “Authentic Happiness.” He also lays out 5 factors of happiness which are well researched. Some are similar to Jung’s, some are different. But, as a therapist, I use them with my clients all the time.

  • I feel that these 5 factors do come close to summing up the areas of your life that need to be fed to find happiness, or balance. On my blog I break it down into 8 factors:


  • Laura

    I think what Jung and others who say that happiness is found least when looked for are speaking of striving vs. contentment. You cannot do both. If you are constantly striving for happiness, you won’t ever be content (and, therefore, happy). And if you really are happy and content, you won’t be striving to find happiness and contentment, because you’ll already be there. I don’t disagree that happiness is a continuum, upon which we can constantly strive to move forward, but I think when we focus too much on finding what we’re missing we lose gratitude for what we already have obtained.

  • Mpahope

    I agree with you, Gretchen, that Jung’s foundations for happiness are merely the structural elements; your suggestions help to enrich daily life. Your ideas are detailed and instructive. For example, you advised to buy a few magazines concerning a field of interest I know nothing about. I borrowed magazines from the library about art, arts and crafts. My interest in the subject blossomed; over the years I’ve been interested in interior design as well as architecture and fashion through the ages.

    You also suggested starting a creative project: I chose the making of collages. Using copies of the magazine I subscribe to, Architectural Digest, I made collages on a few greeting cards. Friends loved them! But more importantly, I would rather clip magazines and paste up cards than watch television. I find far more happiness practicing my new hobby than in doing anything else. What a sense of achievement–that may be covered by Jung’s basic premise of doing “satisfactory work.”

    Of course, it’s not work. It’s a labor of love that you led me to find.

    • gretchenrubin

      Wonderful! I’m so happy to hear that!

      I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how satisfying it is to make something
      WITH YOUR HANDS. There are many kinds of creativity, but it seems to me that
      actually physically making something has a particular way of satisfying.

      • hj blenkinsop

        I love baking! I’m going to make banana cake this afternoon – off on a mission to buy cinnamon!

  • As usual, another handy list to print and put on the fridge/in my journal/carry around on a Post-It – thank you. And I agree that mindfully pursuing such goals indeed makes one happier. I just have trouble understanding how Jung could come up with such a great list and yet not think it worth purposefully going after each of those five. Ah, well. Inspiration for a 5-month happiness project?

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    Thanks again,


  • I agree with the five points, and I also agree there is a big difference between “seeking” happiness and “cultivating” happiness.

    Cultivating implies an understanding that you may not receive the crop you hope for. But you continue to do the work anyway.

    Seeking implies that you believe (perhaps despite all evidence to the contrary) that happiness lies somewhere up ahead. And that would make being present, mindful, in-the-moment rather difficult.

  • I’d have to side with Mr. Jung on this one: ‘I make myself happier’? No way!
    I don’t think happiness is a conscious pursuit. On the contrary, happiness is all about letting go, forgetting yourself and living in a flow of connection with the outside world.

    On my happiest moments, I never think about myself, I feel connected, part of nature.


  • Goldenskyhook

    I loved your comment about Jung, and his suggestion that seeking happiness would make it impossible to find. I think we are dealing with a vocabulary difference based on the era. While I believe that “needing” or “wanting it badly” could possibly push happiness away indefinitely, I totally support your assertion that seeking it will draw it closer. It is a great sign that our shared consciousness is evolving that we are able to be more conscious of attracting bliss, resiliency, ecstasy and good humor.

  • Stacey RH

    Mindfully persuing happiness is a whole lot different that simply looking for happiness, i.e. trying to buy it or earn it. It’s the ‘lacking’ mentality that makes happiness elusive, and the belief (misunderstanding) that uncomfortable or challenging emotions=unhappiness. There is also the matter of happiness as a birthright and the belief that (one’s) God wants each of us to be happy. Jung was, I think, referring to those who ‘seek’ happiness from the perspective of lacking it, and he was referring to those who ‘look’ for happiness in all the wrong places, so to speak. G.R.’s mindful persuing holds the perspective that it’s a matter of being awake enough to recognize that happiness is all around, and we’re always making choices that either keep us awake, or lull us to sleep.

  • Thaliay

    I liked your post & know that we all seek happiness. I don’t pursue it. I agree with the person (can’t think who) that said “the search for happiness is highly over-rated…it is better to aim at contentment.” Well, I followed this advice & became very contented. Happiness just pops up along with it at the darndest times. LOL

  • Nutmegsnest

    Hye Gretchen, I know that I have heard you mention this point about Jung’s thots on deliberately looking for happiness. You are looking for how you can make yourself happy by making changes, seeing the world differently, being honest about the changes you need to make to be happy.

    Jung, I believe is talking about people who are looking to have externals, things, activiteis, other people, make them happy; they don’t want to do any hard work or look at themselves squarely in the eye.

    I understand what Jung means, but I admire you greatly for the way you put things into action.

    Cheers, Meg

  • Keara Baggio

    *crystal clear! I believe the point that carl Jung was trying to make about ‘seeking happines- if one seeks happiness it can not be attainted’; is because sustainable happiness exists within you. if you ‘seek’ happiness, (usually that means from an external source from you) then you’re seeking from a place of ‘lack of happiness’ so you inturn attract more ‘lack’ into your life, which leads to frustration and disappointment.

    Keara Baggio

  • Jack Wieland

    Jung’s belief is that the final goal, where the psyche is headed, is not toward happiness or perfection, but wholeness. This is the path that he called “individuation.” The process of individuation in an encounter with the unconscious and not the ego. Jung is as interested in “fateful detours” and “wrong turnings” as happiness.

  • GemDragon

    Perhaps making “my happiness” the object we are seeking creates too hard a focus – rather, keeping mindfulness of the various, seemingly small causal factors that contribute to happiness may provide a better ‘object’ to keep in mind.  Some of us (me) may be intimidated if ‘happiness’ itself is a goal, too easily opening up judgement and ‘failure’.

  • I think what Jung said about pursuing happiness is like the folks who ‘will be happy when, they have the house, they lose the weight, they have the shining car or the pretty one”. This is very different from being mindful – happiness does not come from out there.

  • I agree with Jung, happiness is a by-product; hence focusing on the end result might drive happiness down.

  • Anon

    I think that Jung missed one key factor: achievement. A lot of my current happiness and satisfaction in life comes from the factors he outlined plus a boatload of personal achievements such as running my own business, for example. Achievement can do loads for one’s self-esteem, which leads to more happiness, in my opinion.

  • The myth of happiness which strikes me in everything I read is this: happiness depends on something else besides your choice to be. If happiness is sought after, then unconsciously you are convinced (to a certain degree) that you are not happy or at least not as happy as you could be. This subconscious message will penetrate your pursuit. With the substitution of a person to be dedicated to, you have set the trap for misery. If it is something or somebody you depend on for your happiness, then you will not be happy in the absence of these, you create an addiction. By the same token, we hear: “I miss you,” “Those good old times,” “I want to go home,” etc., indications of unhappiness rooted in a pathological preference of putting the attention on things not present.

    Are we not masters of our inner world, so that those things around us confirm what we feel inside, what we know deeply is true? The Western mind is used to twist this around and says: “The situation, the economy, the government, the weather, what you did, what you said, what happened, makes me feel this way.” All those things you refer to, to “explain” your mood were caused by your moods before they were tangably there for you to observe. Your experience is the *effect* of your inner choices.

    Wherever you are, there is happiness right in front of you.

    In Chinese: 福在眼前 – fu zai yan qian – happiness is in front of you.

    The character 福 fu means, according to its components: an abundance of revelations of heavenly elements (sun, moon and stars), i.e., good omens, happiness.
    The character 在 zai means: endowment on earth, i.e., present, manifest, exist.
    The character 眼 yan means eye, even the inner eye.
    The character 前 qian means “feet on boat with knife”, i.e, float forward, expecting (my suggestion).

    (Chinese genealogy and dictionary http://www.zhongwen.com/)

    Do not look out, look in.
    Expect to find before you what your eye sees within.

    Therefore, mindful happiness is something completely different than the pursuit of happiness. It is the intention to do things, or to do nothing but being aware, with a mindfulness, aware of your sensations (senses), feelings (body), emotions (heart), thoughts (mind), which all may be uplifted bit by bit, being recognized as symptoms of (the state of) your happiness, fueled by your allowance to be present.

    Happiness is your choice to be. It forces you to stop cluttering your mind and emotions. It forces you to become aware. If forces you to be present where you are, when you are there, with whom you are, with what you are. To expect happiness to come to you as the result of things you do (while you are not happy), “ensuing” as by change, is utterly counterproductive. Your awareness and what fills it, to embrace it with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength, this is happiness.

  • I don’t agree with #1 because i have become happier since becoming chronically sick. It brings a clarity to life, and pushes you to improve everything. Also, everything counts more, life literally becomes more charged with meaning. For me, nothing is so valuable. This may be one of those paradoxes, but my life has never been as good or happy as it has become since i developed chronic pain – which means i am experiencing physical pain the majority of the time.

  • I think what Jung means is that when in seeking happiness you do so in such a way that your ego is so caught up in achieving and seeking happiness that you completely miss out on the process, thus you don’t experience true happiness. Sort of like “happiness is a journey, not a destination.”
    Great article and food for thought 🙂

  • Ryan Kozlowski

    It depends on how much perfectionism plays into your pursuits.

  • rpcrazy

    I’m currently researching mind numbing in video games. I’ve come to this site under the trail”difference between happiness and pleasure.”.

    Know ling reductionis, id guess a summary akin to: “chasing happiness as an experienced pleasure is a higher and perhaps highest form of egoic pleasure, leading man to the pitfalls of addiction In any and every avenue of life”

    Pleasure is an experience. Happiness is a Chosen Path of a lifetime/lifestyle/life dance.

    If happiness is healthy bodies, relations, Heart, work, and spirit then unhealthy versions of his stem from attachment via craving or/and associated hatred.

    Mindfulness is meditating enough to know when one is craving. Living is using One’s faculties for wholistic health(here given 5 faces) and sharing that health to the world in balance/harmony