happinessFor its 2016 Happiest States in America feature, WalletHub invited 10 professors to help define the concept of happiness. Among them was Pamela Rutledge, doctoral faculty in our Media Psychology program.

Here’s what she said:

What are the key ingredients to a happy life?

They key ingredient to a happy life is the ability to make meaning out of one’s circumstances. The foundation to this ability comes from satisfying core human motivations: social connection, feeling that you hvae some control over your life and the sense of your own competence or ability to take action. Satisfying these motivations results in the sense of choice and social support that allows people to see their lives as having purpose. Even negative events can be seen as providing pathways to growth and understanding that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

How important is money to people’s happiness?

Money is important in two ways. First, being able to satisfy basic needs, such as food and shelter, are critical to physical health, which is a foundation for good mental health. Money provides safety and the ability to care for others, which are important to our sense of self and our instinctive need to be safe.

There are lots of studies that argue that money past a certain amount does not increase happiness. The caveat to that is how someone uses their wealth. People who can meet basic needs and have additional resources to take care of others, whether it’s family or through philanthropy, are using money to create meaning and, in fact, find money increases their happiness. Those who use money negatively, trying to achieve meaning through status, power or accumulation of goods, find little emotional reward. It is this dichotomy thta leads to the sayings “money can’t buy happiness” or “it’s better to give than to receive.” …

Read the rest–including answers to the questions What are the secrets to career contentment? and How much does where you live influence your happiness?at WalletHub. And find out where your state ranks on the happiness scale!