Finding Happiness: Americans Care More About Pursuing Personal Passions Than Wealth, Survey Finds

free and relax of businessman...
free and relax of businessman...

Despite recent research suggesting that money can in fact buy happiness, more Americans are redefining success and happiness in a way that doesn't involve wealth. Only around one in four Americans (27 percent) still believes that wealth determines success, according to The LifeTwist study, a survey of more than 2,000 Americans commissioned by American Express.

Americans ranked their top five contributors to success, with 85 percent saying that good health is essential. Other contributors to success included finding time for the "important things in life" (83 percent), having a good marriage or relationship (81 percent), good management of personal finances (81 percent), having a good work-life balance (79 percent), and having a job or career you love (75 percent). But keeping an open and flexible mindset was the most universal ingredient for success: The overwhelming majority of Americans (94 percent) agree that being open to change is essential to a successful life.

"Dozens of the survey’s findings reflect a new American notion of success, but perhaps none more starkly than the sentiment that Americans ranked 'having a lot of money' 20th on a list of 22 possible contributors to having a successful life," the survey's authors write in a press release. "This sentiment mirrors the steadily rising trend ... that Americans are increasingly placing greater priority on living a fulfilling life –- in which being wealthy is not the most significant factor."

The floundering economy and high unemployment rates have played a role in changing attitudes towards wealth and success. While 43 percent of Americans say they've experienced a financial setback, more than half say that such experiences have helped them realize what's important in life, and 42 percent say that the obstacle has opened their eyes to new experiences.

Rising work stress levels may also be playing a part in the shift away from a wealth-based notion of success. Eight in 10 employed Americans say that they're stressed about work, with poor compensation and an unreasonable workload tied as the number-one occupational stressors.

To combat mounting stress in both work and personal lives, Huffington Post President and Editor-in-Chief Arianna Huffington urges women to "lean back" and focus on their health and well-being in order to find personal fulfillment.

"The world needs women to redefine success beyond money and power," Huffington wrote in a Wall Street Journal blog. "We need a third metric, based on our well-being, our health, our ability to unplug and recharge and renew ourselves, and to find joy in both our job and the rest of our life. Ultimately, success is not about money or position, but about living the life you want, not just the life you settle for."

Prioritizing the pursuit of joy may not only boost well-being, but can actually spur success: A 2005 study found that happy people are generally successful in work, relationships and health (and they may also enjoy better sleep).

Another positive finding? Six in 10 respondents in the LifeTwist study already consider themselves to be successful, while 83 percent say "I'm a work in progress."

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