Happiness is a simple pleasure

Are you happy?

Chances are that you are, but the chances aren't as good as they have been.

At least, that was the finding of a survey of more than 4,000 Americans ages 35 and older. The study -- "Beyond Happiness: Thriving" -- found that more than two-thirds of respondents classified themselves as happy, but fewer than one out of every five said he or she was "very" happy.

"We're always looking to get a more robust understanding of the contributors and barriers to happiness in people's lives," Steve Cone, executive vice president of Integrated Value & Strategy for AARP, said in a statement Monday. "Building on previous AARP research, which shows the importance of happiness and peace of mind to 50-plus families, these new results affirm that we are on the right track -- advocating to ensure basic health and financial security and making available everyday discounts that let people enjoy time with family and friends."

Whether that assessment that the survey affirms AARP's stands on issues such as health care reform, which has attracted criticism from older conservatives, is accurate aside, the survey did give a quick snapshot of how happy folks middle age and older are, and what they say makes them happy.

Of the respondents, 68 percent said they were happy, though most classified themselves as "somewhat happy" (49 percent). Those who were "very happy" amounted to 19 percent.

With happiness being a relative thing, nearly half (49 percent) said they were just as happy as the next person, and nearly one in three of the rest -- 31 percent -- believed they were happier than the next person, with only 13 percent saying that others were happier than they were.

They weren't as optimistic about the next generation's prospects, however, with less than half (45 percent) believing the next generation will be as happy as theirs and more than a third (35 percent) believing there will be a dropoff in happiness.

As far as who was likely to be happy, those in good to excellent health were three times more likely to report being very happy, and the majority of respondents said they controlled their own happiness. A sense of control, which got stronger with age in the survey, made a person 2.5 times more likely to be happy and was linked to factors such as higher educational levels, higher income levels, good health and the lack of having gone through a major life event in the previous year.

The survey also gives some credence to the adage that money can't buy happiness. How money was spent meant more to the respondents than the amount, with fewer than one-third saying money contributed to happiness. A lack of money, however, was tied to unhappiness. And how would most of the respondents spend a hundred bucks that dropped into their lap for the purpose of increasing happiness? According to the survey, they would spend it on family or use it to go out to eat.

Family activities and relationships with family, friends and pets ranked high on what made the respondents happy. The most significant, according to the survey, were hugging or kissing a loved one; watching children/grandchildren/close relatives succeed; being told that you are trustworthy and someone who can be relied upon; spending social time with family or friends, and experiencing a special moment with a child.

What didn't rank high? Social media like Facebook. For all its bells, whistles and wall-writing, an electronic relationship doesn't equate to happiness.

What may be the most reassuring aspect of the survey is the indication that happiness isn't contingent on how much money you spend or what you do. Simple pleasures do just fine.