5 Basic Factors for Happiness, According to Carl Jung

Gretchen Rubin

Every Wednesday is Tip Day on Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project

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?

10 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    I suspect what Jung was referring to was what would become this “I have, therefore I am” maxim as I call it which has permeated our entire society. Many unfortunately are losing what they had and therefore finding that they are not. If one uses the 5 factors of Jung, most really don’t realize what the word reasonable means in number 4. Without projection to use one of Jung’s own terms. To simply be reasonably content with what one has and what one is.

    To seek happiness for most in our society is to seek the perfect job, the perfect partner or spouse, the perfect house, the perfect car, the perfect clothes. “I have….., therefore I am.” And they keep seeking the more perfect once the perfection doesn’t bring happiness. A better job, a younger or more beautiful/handsome partner or spouse, a larger house, a more expensive car, more expensive clothes and a bigger closet. And of course “tuning out” the imperfect world around us. If we are happy, that’s all that matters. Ayn Rand called it objectivism.

    Jungians would probably agree with you and not with Jung. But of course Jung said at one point that he was glad he was Jung and not a Jungian.

  2. avatar phyllis Doyle Pepe says:

    I’d like to know how you equate “happiness”––being fulfilled, being thrilled, being in the muck of love, having it all, living it up, and so on and so forth? Are you happy, punk? You, betcha! cuz the world is my oyster kind of thing doesn’t ring too true these days for many whose shell is mighty empty and no pearls are forthcoming. BUT––there are always those five steps to get you to the top rung and who knows, you may reach some kind of something. I prefer Freud to Jung any day and for me happiness is a thing called Joe.

  3. avatar phyllis Doyle Pepe says:


    After rain after days without rain,
    it stays cool, private and cleansed, under the trees
    and the dampness there, married now to gravity,
    falls branch to branch, leaf to leaf, down to the ground

    where it will disappear—but not, of course, vanish
    except to our eyes. The roots of the oaks will have their share,
    and the white threads of the grasses, and the cushions of moss;
    a few drops, round as pearls, will enter the mole’s tunnel;

    and soon so many small stones, buried for a thousand years,
    will feel themselves being touched.
    Mary Oliver

  4. avatar kermie says:

    Baby Snooks and phyllis–I think you both have it right.

    One of my favorite sayings is from Walker Percy, “You can get all As and still flunk life.” For the longest time I thought I had flunked life. I had a career, good money coming in–I just kept meeting the wrong friends, the wrong men. When I hit my late thirties (15 years ago) it turned around for me. The people made the difference.

    Almost two years ago I lost the decades-long career–it is not coming back, not in any economy. But the people are still here. The man is here. I take happiness where I find it. I have worked since I was 13; it feels SO odd to be out of steady work this long. (Okay, I really miss the italics function.)

    I guess what I am saying is I didn’t realize how much I let my job define me until I lost it. Now I define me, and that notion is freeing.

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Margaritas, no salt. Believe me, all vicissitudes of life can be managed with this magic elixir.

      Arrggghhh! Spell check!!!! I had to check the article twice to get vicissitudes right. And I bet I got it wrong anyway.

      To all potentially wayward adolescents out there—stay in school. And….stay away from margaritas.

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear Kermie—I second you emotion. I must have my italics.

  5. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    I find that the more mindful I am about happiness, the happier I become.

    Is it happiness or contentment? Happiness in our society seems to be based on the “I have, therefore I am” maxim. Contentment allows the “I am, therefore I have” maxim to replace it and true happiness, if there is really such a thing, comes through the contentment. In fleeting moments. That are appreciated more fully because of the contentment.

    The concept of individuation in Jungian terms is really the pursuit of contentment. Disconnecting in order to connect. Within. Disconnecting from the ego. Moving from “I have, therefore I am” to “I am, therefore I have.”

    • avatar Joan Larsen says:

      You all have heard me on the subject of “happiness” – which is not a state of being — but something that happens only in moments, and only if you are very fortunate. It is a sensation, a surprise, and it is wonderful. If it were considered as something we have every day, we would want something more. Baby Snooks – as usual – has set this straight in a paragraph that says it all and says it succinctly. I don’t think we have to mull it over once we understand what she is saying.

      To the author I would say that your concentration should be on “contentment” as Snooks has said — as that is a fortunate state of being that we may unconsciously strive for. If we “strive for it”, it becomes work. Contentment should be pleasurable and we usually sense it when we have it. And we make love and relish these good times as they too will vanish and come again — filling us with something hard to describe but usually SMILES are a part of it, speaking for myself.

      Again, Baby Snooks, you have nailed it on the head! Joan

  6. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    My concept of happiness is that it is a byproduct of doing something you enjoy or being with compatible people. I’ve never equated it with going to a certain place or having a particular item. I can be happy at work when I accomplish what I set out to do in a reasonable amount of time. At home I can be happy reading a good book or watching my cat entertain herself. Being at ease in your own skin is essential to happiness and contentment because we can’t change who we are.

  7. avatar Diana Gruner says:

    There seem to be several definitions of happiness and probably all are valid. I find moments of joy and wonder, as well as contentment, bring happiness. I’ve always found the sunrise to be joyous. No matter what I have or don’t have, a sunrise makes me happy. Walking down a tree-lined street in the fall, lost in the colors, brings me happiness, too. Same with the taste of a ripe apple right after it’s picked from the tree. Laughing with friends. Getting together with family. All of it means happiness to me. And, yes, a tasty margarita can make my day, too.